Category Archives: Weekly Posts

EdTech! EdTech! What the Heck is EdTech?

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.
– Marshall McLuhan

The word technology always seems to relate to electronics as this is how our world tends to understand it.  We rely on its functioning to allow us to organize, perform, problem solve, compile, create, and present information to those that request or require it with or without human involvement.  However, technology itself has many definitions:

  • science or knowledge put into practical use to solve problems or invent useful tools.  (yourdictionary.com)
  • the sum of the ways in which social groups provide themselves with the material objects of their civilization (dictionary.com)

Education technology can be defined as:

  • the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning.
  • creating, using, and managing technological processes and educational resources to help improve user academic performance. (Wikipedia)
  • the development and application of tools (including software, hardware, and processes) intended to promote education
  • a study and ethical practice for facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.” (General Assembly)

From these definitions, I have gleaned my own interpretation of educational technology from the word cloud above:

Practical and ethical scientific processes, resources, and tools based on societal knowledge and values that promote and enhance academic performance through the creation and application of both (computer) hardware and software.

As I try to understand how EdTech has impacted my educational endeavours, both as a student and teacher, I am reminded of not only how old I am, but how much has changed.  As Tarina and Joceyln reflected, I too remember the TV/VCR cart being an exciting part of my elementary years.  The overhead projector was “exciting” as well as it allowed my Grade 7 teacher a never-ending spool of transparency paper to write continuous notes so that he wasn’t restricted to limited chalkboard space.  However, as I reflect, most of the educational technology tools that I remember from my early educational years were used more by the teacher than the students.

david hasselhoff technology GIF

In high school, I took classes that focused on using specific technologies such as a typewriter (yes, Lisa, I too took a typing class in grade 9) and information process, which essential was how to uses the tools on a computer such a word processing and formatting.  Nowadays, we assume students already have these skills and unfortunately, we are usually wrong.  Are these not essential skills to have in order to effectively use programs that are meant to improve our efficiency?  I’ll come back to this point.

In my undergrad, I spent a couple of classes in one course that focused on writing on a chalkboard and whiteboard in addition to learning how to operate and use an overhead projector.  Not only that, but I was also introduced to the idea of educational technology when I took ECMP 355 with the one and only Alec Couros, in which I was introduced to the wonderful world of HyperStudio and other technologically advanced tools.  Wait, it gets better.

My first teaching job plopped me right into the role of “computer” teacher for which I educated grades 7, 8, and 9 students on how to Boolean search online and how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint tools effectively.  Then I fell in love with using a document camera and using a Smart Board (although not as effectively as I could have) to make materials more accessible to students as I taught.  Once again, tools that I used, not students.

Now, we have opportunities to use technology on a more regular basis with individual students with initiatives such as Connected Educators through the Cathlotic System.  Although I don’t teach in this system, this is something that I wish Regina Public would offer as I hear about the wonderful things that some Connected Educators, lots within our current class, are doing.  I would love to be able to learn from any of you if you’re willing to share some things that you’ve had huge success with.

From my LRT lens, the technology that I immerse myself with is assistive technology.  This is sometimes thrown at students with the mindset that it will fix their problems.  Unfortunately, there is a process of incorporating this technology with the understanding that there could be some failures before successes are made.  There needs to be specific training with individual students, wait….individual teachers as well, before these tools can be deemed effective or else we are setting everyone up for frustration and failure.  Essentially, I like to ask:

  • What is the purpose of this technology (substitute, augment, modify, or redefine)?
  • How is this technology going to improve or enhance the students’ academic performance?
  • How do we effectively incorporate this technology into the classroom environment for this student?
  • What tasks will this technology be used for?
  • How will we know if a student is successful with this technology?

It’s imperative that collaboration is at the forefront for technology integration or else more time will be spent on troubleshooting.  I speak from a recent experience when our school received iPads from the division for specific students.  They arrived without the requested application (Clicker Writer) installed, and even so, no one has been given any PD on the app itself that we are expecting students and teachers to use in class.  This goes back to Meira and Shelby‘s point about PD support.  Some students are assigned or given tech to use but not always taught how to use it effectively, especially those that struggle with traditional ways of demonstrating learning.  We need to provide them specific instruction, allow them to practice in isolation, and then slowly integrate them into the classroom with it so that they can gain independence in not only the academic task but the technological task as well.

vr technology GIFTechnology is always changing and advancing, which means educational technology is always changing and advancing.  We need to ensure that there is a purpose to its usage, proper training is employed so that it can be used to its full capacity, and we reflect and re-evaluate continuously so that we are gaining from it rather than unknowingly neglected some of the disadvantages that may be impeding overall progress and development.

“First we build the tools, then they build us.”
-Marshall McLuhan

 

The end….for now!

Here’s to another class full of communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and connection. I’ve enjoyed another leg in my educational journey and look forward to the next adventure (after I stop and refill on down time).

Empowerment is essential for social justice

“Engagement is more about what you can do for students. “Empowerment” is about helping students figure out what they can do for themselves.

George Couros

The last debate on the issue of teachers being responsible for using social media and technology to promote social justice involved a very engaging discussion. At a glance, I had an opinion, but the depth of conversation really got me thinking about what it actually meant. Mike and Jacquie were very polished and memorable in their argument for reasons why they agree. However, Brad and Michala had some interesting counter-arguments that got me thinking even more.

After all is said and done, I have to admit that I don’t feel teachers should HAVE to use social media and technology to promote social justice. Although it is a common avenue these days, I don’t feel students (depending on their age and maturity) have the skills YET to successfully navigate this open world full of criticism of free speech. Heck, I don’t feel most adults have the ability either. However, I do agree with Dean when he said that social justice can be as simple as showing kindness with no opinions or perceived hidden agenda attached.

As someone who doesn’t have a social media presence, I for one don’t feel comfortable promoting social justice on social media. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to start, but I don’t feel I have the knowledge to lead by example, yet. I compare this to teaching physics. I’ve taken it myself and know some basics, but I can’t teach and lead by example without the potential of leading my students astray.

However, this leads me to the point Jacquie made about remaining silent on social justice issues. I may remain silent on social justice issues online, but that doesn’t mean that I am silent in the classroom. Michala identified that communication, especially with regard to these types of societal issues, is better suited in person for which most aspects of communication can be used to understand others’ opinions. This includes tone, inflection, volume, and non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. These aspects of very difficult to portray online.

Now that I have documented my stance on this topic, I still want to explore how I can promote social justice in the classroom more effectively. Jasmine made an interesting point when she said “I think our job is to make children question what is going on around them and have them search for answers that go with their values and beliefs… guiding them in seeing BOTH sides of issues.” Understanding perspective is key, but how to we go about teaching this in a quality manner, especially when we start to use social media as a platform?

According to this article by Caitrin Blake, there a number of different ways to promote social justice, specifically systemic inequalities, in the classroom. First, teachers can have students answer the following questions:

  • Who makes decisions and who is left out?
  • Who benefits and who suffers?
  • Why is a given practice fair or unfair?
  • What is required to create change?
  • What alternatives can we imagine?

By having them discuss these questions, they will likely start to understand injustice at many levels. Next, I have summarized some other essential steps to discussing social justice issues mentioned in the article.

  1. Foster a safe, classroom environment that allows students to share their ideas and respond appropriately to the ideas of others with understanding and respect (near impossible to curate this type of environment online).
  2. Model questions and answers that show thoughtfulness and acknowledgment of differing opinions. We always have to lead by example.
  3. Help students see each other as co-learners rather than competitors so they can approach a path to solving problems together. When we only see things from our own perspective, it is difficult to make positive changes. Collaboration is key even when opinions don’t exactly align.
  4. Include diverse experiences and backgrounds of the student population to represent multiple perspectives. Give voice to all students so that many angles are looked at and considered within the discussion. 
  5. Analyze and understand the biases in which resources are written from before using or use them as a way to dissect the social justice issue throughout history. These critical thinking skills will only aid in the development of empowerment in our students.
  6. Use real-world issues that affect students’ everyday lives and examine the messages that they are hearing on different media platforms (radio, newspaper, tv, social media, etc).

Regardless of how worldly, educated, or well-traveled we are, we can never know everything. But by recognizing our own biases and accepting that we can learn from others, we establish the groundwork for growth and promote the cultivation of independent and analytical thoughts. Opening ourselves to learning from other’s perspectives is the very foundation for developing more comprehensive views of the world around us.

Ashley Watters

I wanted to leave you with Jacquie’s eloquent and perfectly worded closing statement that left most of us in deep thought, but I was unable to figure out how to upload the audio file that I recorded. As a substitute for this, I would like to redirect you to Mike’s post for which you can read it over and over again.

Openness and Sharing – Fair but Unfair

Smartphone, Face, Woman, Old, Baby
Used with permission from Pixabay

Tonight’s discussion debated on two different aspects of openness and sharing in school being unfair to our kids. Sherrie and Dean argued the benefits of openness and sharing with regards to learning and connecting with others across the world in a meaningful, purposeful way. Melinda and Altan argued the concerns of openness and sharing with regards to privacy, consent, and accessibility. Both arguments had me agreeing with both sides because they were looking at this debate topic from differently interpreted angles. I respect each angle as I feel they both need to be discussed to bring awareness so that education on these concepts is “open and shared” (see how I did that, kinda punny!)

As I tend to have done in my last few posts, I am going to share my takeaways from this discussion. First off, I’ll start with Sherrie and Dean’s perspective on the topic.

Adapted and expanded on from source

As mentioned by the presenters, openness and sharing allows for the 4, now 5, C’s of the 21st century education. Don’t get me wrong, all of these are important in education regardless of the platform, but by using the online format, it opens up the possibility for more of each area. Communicating with others in your school division, province, country, or across the world, opens up the potential for diverse collaboration, exposure to differing perspectives to develop and apply the art of critical thinking, generating creativity for sharing, and connecting in a global stage to take education and our future leaders to the next level.

More often than not, we are the authority on what students learn and how but that has to change. We need to empower students by allowing them choice and freedom in their learning and this can be done through openness and sharing, or OEPs (Open Educational Practices) and OERs (Open Educational Resources). OEPs are a set of activities and support around the creation, use, and repurposing of OERs (Conole, 2010). OERs are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes (Wikipedia, accessed on June 9th, 2020). Although OEPs and OERs are used more with high school and post-secondary institutions, there are some that address elementary outcomes such as ck12.org.

Media, Social Media, Apps, Social Network, Facebook
Used with permission from Pixabay

Lastly, students need to be in charge of their digital footprint. Let’s not be ignorant to the fact that they will all have one, if not already, much like we all do in some capacity. However, we need to make them aware of how their actions shape their online identity, which is something most employers are accessing to make hiring decisions. Students are going to inevitably venture into the online world and we as teachers have a part in educating them on how to positively reflect who they are by what they are sharing online. The difficult part is that many adults have difficulties with this concept. If we follow Ribble’s Step Approach, this will help us think critically when posting.

In addition, ISTE has created five questions that adults can use to kick-start meaningful conversations with kids about online behavior and identity:

  1. What information am I sharing?
  2. How secure is it?
  3. Whom am I sharing it with?
  4. What am I leaving behind?
  5. What are my rights?

When we lead by example and are transparent (or translucent) with our own online activities, we can guide, influence, and inspire our youth to responsibly benefit from openness and sharing.

Now on the other hand, Melinda and Altan brought up some valid points with regards to openness and sharing in a personal context. We have to be knowledgeable about our division’s privacy policies with regard to sharing student information, especially pictures. As they pointed out, our EAL population has a difficult time understanding documents, such as the media release forms, and I assume there are other families that do as well. How can we make these documents more clear and understandable by most?

The digital divide is a concern brought up in many of our debates, and for good reason. Because of it, many in our population aren’t exposed to the benefits of openness and sharing. Since a lot of things are online now, such as applying for jobs, registering for activities, etc, those without access aren’t getting the same opportunities.

As Alec mentioned, it isn’t fair to keep the concept of openness and sharing from our youth. We need to provide them with tools and knowledge to positively participate in openness and sharing within our digital world. We also need to provide access for those who don’t have it so that they are exposed to more opportunities. Although openness and sharing can be done offline, with guidance, it can be transferred to online spaces appropriately. We can’t lose sight that open learning and sharing start with consent and choice and be aware of the positive and negative consequences of what we are posting or accessing online. It is important to share learning, and not necessarily opinions as this may lead to scrutiny of your teaching motives and agenda.

Openness and sharing in schools can be fair to our kids if addressed with care and concern and if used with an appropriate purpose to help instill the “5” C’s of 21st century education.

Ban, no! Collaborative guidelines, yes!

The debate on banning cell phones in the classroom has been one for the technological ages. At first, of course, not everyone had access to a cell phone, and many still don’t. But let’s not kid ourselves, the vast majority of high school and upper elementary school kids have a cell phone, whether it is at school or not. What does this mean for teachers with regard to classroom management?

Rather than summarize the argument that both Jill/Tarina and Skyler/Alyssa presented, I’m going to explain my takeaways from the discussion, which mainly reside on the side of NO to banning, but within reason.

To start, I thought about my own experience with cell phones in the classroom and there is little to none because I have worked primarily with students in grades 3-6. Of course, some of them have cell phones at school, but the vast majority don’t, or if they do, I don’t see it. However, the scales are tipping and we are starting to see students a lot younger have these devices in hand. What do we do about that? How do we cultivate the etiquette in the younger grades to transform cell phone usage as they advance to each grade? This is a lot of responsibility, but it’s not impossible.

To think about this more, I reflected on how I use my cell phone at work. Well, let me tell you that I’m ashamed. Not only do I usually have it within arms reach, but I also have a compatible smartwatch for which I receive notifications as well. So that got me to thinking, how can I expect students to not let their phones distract them or others when I am not modeling what I am preaching? I have developed these habits because I haven’t been mindful of my own presence at work, let alone with my friends or family at home. Now to refocus!

I went down a rabbit hole of what workplaces do to police cell phone usage in their work environments. Our students eventually become part of the workforce and their cell phone habits go with them, so what policies do workplaces have? Do they ban them outright or is there some flexibility with usage?

Source

In most articles that I read, it states that we have to accept and understand that employees (or students) are going to have their cell phones on them and use them during the day. Banning (as defined by Skylar and Alyssa) is not practical and creates resentment and a negative relationship between the employee and employer. However, full out usage with no guidelines is not conducive to productive, efficient use of work time. So, then what? The following video describes some tips that may help keep everyone somewhat happy.

Would these tips work in the classroom as well? I think so! Think about it, drafting up a cell phone policy (I hate this word by the way) WITH students would help for them to establish and understand phone etiquette in your classroom. Identifying specific places for which cell phone calls can be taken, that is if students need to take an emergency call, is helpful for students to use if need be. Indicating safe places to use cell phones, not in the bathrooms or change rooms, etc. The number one rule that I think all teachers, including myself, should follow is to LEAD BY EXAMPLE. We cannot expect students to refrain from using their phones when their teachers are using it in class unrelated to school purposes.

To add to these tips, I also came across a review of different policies school have on cell phone usage: These include

  1. Prohibition
    • no phones allowed but no penalty is stated
    • no phones allowed and a penalty is issued (leave the class, take the phone away, grade consequence, etc)
    • Questions about prohibition policies: 
      • How effective are policies that prohibit the use of electronic devices?
      • How is their effectiveness being measured?
      • Are prohibition policies enforceable?
      • How much energy does it take to enforce them?
      • Are there consequences if a prohibition policy is not enforced? What are those consequences?
  2. Controlled Use
    • use for educational purposes only as directed by the teacher
    • Questions about controlled use policies: 
      • Do students comply with these policies?
      • Does teacher controlling the use of electronic devices an effective way to demonstrate the role of technology in learning?
      • Can these policies be enforced? What if they aren’t enforced?
  3. Students Decide
    • put the onus on them responsibly use their devices
    • should not distract others’ learning
    • Questions about policies that let students decide: 
      • Are student learners mature enough to appropriately handle making decisions about their behavior in a course?
      • What responsibility does the instructor have for creating and maintaining a climate conducive to learning in the classroom?  
      • What if students proposed the cell phone policy?
      • Are there advantages when students decide? Risks?
  4. No Policies
    • no rules or expectations for phone usage, even if it is not related to academics
    • Questions about not having a policy: 
      • What happens in classes with no policy? Is it different from what happens in classes with policies?
      • Does not having a policy when so many other teachers do, communicate that the teacher without a policy has somehow given up?
  5. Policies with Exceptions
    • cannot use device unless you have permission or if it’s an emergency
    • Questions about policies with exceptions: 
      • How does a teacher determine whether a certain technology is or isn’t appropriate?
      • How much extra work is involved in dealing with and keeping track of exceptions?
      • What criteria can be used to determine the legitimacy of an exception request?
      • Are there fairness issues associated with this policy approach?
  6. Novelty Policies
    • mild or humourous penalties for usage
      • “if it rings, you sing”
      • if you use it, you have to bring cookies for the class
      • if you use it, you have to forfeit your highest homework score
      • for every minute I use my phone, you may use yours for two minutes
      • Questions about novelty policies: 
        • What does being novel add to the issue of cell phone use?
        • Does something like humor put the problem in perspective or diminish its seriousness?
        • What if a student refuses to comply with a policy that requires some action?

While all of these suggestions are interesting on their own, what happens when teachers have different policies in each of their classes that students attend? It is fair for them to have to know and effectively navigate the different expectations with the fear of penalty? Is it fair for a whole school to have the same policy that all teachers implement, whether they believe in it or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these policies or others or what you’ve done to address cell phone usage in class. What has worked or hasn’t worked for you?

Social media is CHANGING childhood, not ruining it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the debate that occurred today between Dean/Amy and Christina/Laurie on the topic of whether or not social media is ruining childhood. As Christina and Laurie highlighted, our childhoods looked a lot different than what children are experiencing now. However, this doesn’t mean it is bad. The biggest difference is obviously technology. As both sides pointed out, there are positives as well as negatives to using social media. These are:

Pros (Taken from Smart Social)

  1. Young people can feel empowered to teach older relatives to use technology
  2. It can be used to create a positive digital footprint
  3. It provides parents an opportunity for open communication
  4. It helps students learn essential job skills
  5. It can lead to more communication, connection, and creativity
  6. You can use it to form or join (support) groups that may not be represented locally
  7. It offers students a way to stay connected
  8. It promotes students’ civic engagement
  9. It spreads social awareness and kindness
  10. It offers students a way to stay in touch with friends if they move
  11. You can learn new things

Cons (Take from Roots of Action)

  1. It lacks an emotional connection when communicating with others
  2. It gives people a license to be hurtful
  3. It decreases face-to-face conversation skills
  4. It conveys an inauthentic expression of feelings with the use of emojis and abbreviations (LOL, SMH, OMG, etc)
  5. It diminishes understanding and thoughtfulness through the lack of quality conversations
  6. It causes face-to-face interactions to feel disconnected
  7. It facilitates laziness
  8. It creates a skewed self-image
  9. It reduces family closeness
  10. It causes distractions

Upon further research, the impact it has on mental health, as Christina and Laurie highlighted, was explained really well in Bailey Parnell‘s TEDxRyersonU talk titled Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health?

She identifies the top four stressors of social media.

  1. Highlight Reel
    • a collection of the best and brightest moments in someone’s life that they post
    • this causes oneself to compare our behind the scenes life with others’ shining moments for which we inadvertently scrutinize and question ourselves
  2. Social Currency
    • what we use to attribute value to ourselves in the form of likes, comments, and shares
    • this means we put ourselves on the market as a product and base our worth on the value or social currency we get from others
  3. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
    • social anxiety caused by the fear of missing potential connections, events, or opportunities
    • this causes addiction and reliance on social media, taking us away from the present company
  4. Online Harassment
    • constant scrutiny by trolls or others you may know that feeds into a negative self-image
    • micro-moments of online harassment needs to be monitored and not go unchecked because over time it becomes a macro problem with potentially severe consequences.

However, Parnell identifies four steps one can take to media wellness.

Step 1 – Recognize the problem
Step 2 – Audit your social media diet
Step 3 – Create a better online experience
Step 4 – Model good behaviour

I can understand how as adults we can use these steps to edit our social media habits in order to improve our mental health, but what about our students? At what age do we expect them to understand how to mute, block, ignore, and properly respond/react to the negative messages on social media in order to reimagine, redefine, educate others, create positive experiences, and take action in both an online and offline platform. Really, both platforms require similar approaches and I don’t feel it’s necessary to separate the two in this context.

Jennifer Cassa Todd has a response to this question I posed in her article 10 Reasons Why we should start showing Middle Schoolers how to use Social Media. Adolescence is the ideal time to:

  • teach the appropriate use of technology because they are “able to reflect on their own thinking, and are able to observe how they learn and develop strategies to improve their learning, as well as when planning and impulse control is developing”
  • help navigate the online space and use it positively with open, healthy dialogue
  • connect them to organizations, causes, authors and learning opportunities based on their interests
  • have conversations about the media and the techniques they use
  • teach them their online world is an extension of their offline world and that “every person has the power to give another person great joy by sending positive and complimentary messages online as well as in-person”
  • talk about balance and accountability and being a good model of this
  • identify when it’s appropriate to respond in person, on the phone, or in a text

Essentially, it all comes down to digital citizenship. If students aren’t made aware of the etiquette that comes along with having an online presence, they may easily get wrapped up in the negative aspects that are available to swallow them up. Once again, you can’t give them a car and expect them to know how to drive. They need to know what speed to go in different situations. They need support to steer themselves in the right direction. They need help to avoid obstacles to stay on the road.

But who is responsible to teach our youth when not everyone has the knowledge and skills to do so, parents and teachers included? We are quick to point fingers and place blame, but have you thought about how you can help as a teacher, parent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, or friend?

All in all, as most of our debates have gone, if used purposefully, meaningfully, and with good intentions, social media is CHANGING what childhood looks like. When students aren’t given the proper skills to navigate the digital world, this is when it can ruin childhood. Jacquie mentioned that experiences on social media, although not all positive, allows us to make teachable moments from the negative and learn from them. However, this needs to be done in partnership with our students and demonstrated by our own actions. There needs to be a balance, education, and limits to social media activities for both adults and kids which also need to be regularly reflected on. Even though lots of things that are happening in the world have been happening for years, such as bullying, shaming, racism, etc., social media is making these worldwide concerns more visible. The skills to address them should not change no matter the media for which we are exposed to them.

How you plan to assist students with steering clear of the negative and finding the positive in social media to help shape their childhood?

To Google or not to Google…that is the focus.

Disclaimer: This post was created in collaboration with Jocelyn to summarize the information we collected to defend our position on the debate statement:

Schools should NOT focus on teaching things that are easily googled.  

Source: Pixabay

We choose to disagree with this statement because we feel that schools SHOULD still teach things even though you can easily Google them.  As teachers, we need to teach students the curriculum concepts that you can Google because we have the ability to teach them these same concepts beyond what Google is able to provide.  Much of what they can find on Google, although quick and easy, is one dimensional.  There is no connection between you and what you search online.  It is a one-way interaction.  Teachers are able to teach the same concepts beyond what Google can because we can elaborate, help students make connections that are relevant to them personally, and can go beyond the basic information that google provides.  We can teach students how to think critically with this information, be the knowledge keeper or expert for those who don’t have access to this information and provide them with the basics that will help build their foundation for future learning. Therefore, Google isn’t the answer!  It is simply a one-dimensional tool that holds a small aspect of value with regards to educating our world.  

CRITICAL THINKING

When students simply look up facts using Google to learn their curriculum, they are lacking the essential skill of critical thinking.  They want a quick answer and move on, which doesn’t expose them to the learning process.  Critical thinking is defined as the “art of filtering through information to reach an unbiased, logical decision that guides better thought and action.” 

This is where teachers fit into the picture.  We can provide students skills to use the basic information they learn from us, or Google, in order to go to the next step.  This includes knowing what to do with that information to make sense of it, make it purposeful, and apply it.  This is all done by using analytical thinking, communication, creativity, open-mindedness, and problem-solving.  Although information can be found on Google, it doesn’t provide you these critical thinking skills.  Therefore, reading information online doesn’t mean that you learn and understand it.  We need to teach kids more than just how to Google something.  

DIGITAL DIVIDE

Every day in our schools we are faced with a digital divide.  Not all families have access to the internet in their communities, the internet they may have might not be able to support a high enough broadband speed to download the content and some families may not be able to afford the price of internet.  This is evident right now in my classroom as parents from an EAL background or those that do not have computers at home are struggling to access Google Classroom or Zoom because they are not familiar with these programs and their children need the help to gain access.  Therefore, we cannot rely on our students to Google their curriculum, we need a teacher to be able to teach so that the subject matter is relevant to the audience in the class.  Everyone learns at a different rate, no matter their age.  Some students come into their first years of education with different technical skills.  Some students can navigate a computer or an iPad while others don’t even know how to hold a book.  Students that have internet access and access to technology have consistent digital access to hardware, software, wifi use, and mobile data and therefore have the foundational requirements for being able to build and maintain digital literacy.  This is why teachers in all schools should teach things even though you can easily Google them.  

BACK TO BASICS

The basics of education are reading, writing, creativity, and nutrition and health.  By making sure our students are provided with these basic skills, we are ensuring they will be successful.  Memorization has an important place because it exercises the brain by training the mind to pay attention and focus intensely.  It also activates a higher level of thinking.  We need to learn information through experience and have opportunities to apply the information in different situations.  We have to learn from our mistakes, we can’t always be right.  There is more to learning than just searching for the right answer online.  We read to gain information and we write to convey it.  Reading all our information online is not suitable for all students.  Some are not able to read at the level at which information is presented.   Also, some learners are auditory learners and they gain more of an understanding through auditory means than through reading means.   Teachers will often personalize explanations of learning content to suit the needs of the students in their classrooms.  Math is a perfect example as there are so many strategies that we are teaching because our brains are not all wired the same.  We still need to teach the basics of math because we need to be able to use these skills to quickly solve larger algorithms.  Spelling practice also allows us to be more efficient when we are writing.   Jacquie made a comment last night about how beginning readers need to memorize sight words to help them with their early stages of reading.  These sight words are words that we cannot use our decoding skills to sound out. As teachers, we need to continue to teach the basic skills even though Google can help us find the answer.  

Learn, School, Nursery School, Kindergarten, Girl
Source: Pixabay

TAKEAWAYS

Although Google is a prominent entity in our society, we can’t pretend that it provides us with all the information and skills needed to educate our youth.  We also can’t ignore that it is a useful tool when used properly, which can provide students with up to date information for which they can formulate opinions based on facts and ideas presented to them.  It is a powerful tool but needs to be used in balance with other holistic and comprehensive approaches that fit the needs of all of our students and their learning needs.  Perhaps the question is not whether schools should or shouldn’t teach things that are easily Googled, but rather schools should NOT rely on traditional forms of teaching and assessment. 

We should re-evaluate our instructional approaches, redefine our assessment techniques, and teach students hard and soft skills in conjunction with each other in order for students to benefit our constantly changing world going forward

May the Force Be With You…When You Have Access and the Skills to Use Technology

Tonight’s debate, was once again, was very informative and brought forth some valid points on both sides. However, I must say that I sided more with the disagree side for a couple of different reasons:

  1. As stated in the article posted by Jasmine and Victoria, other equity issues still remain such as “special education services, food and nutrition, English learner services, and child care.” This doesn’t take into account aspects at home such as water or electricity that also factor into the gaps in our socio-economic or even urban/rural environments. Therefore, just because someone may have access to technology, doesn’t mean equity has been achieved.
  2. Victoria mentioned how the digital divide doesn’t just include access to technology anymore, it includes the skills necessary to use it and use it effectively and with purpose. You can’t expect to give someone a car who doesn’t know how to drive and expect them to succeed because they can now get from point A to point B. The education of these tools is important but costly and continuous as the vehicles continue to change and/or need maintenance.
  3. As Matt mentioned, we need to take into consideration the access some students have to these same technology tools outside of the class because a lot of them don’t have access, as this pandemic has brought to light. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use technology in school, but we need to use them in balance with other forms of learning. Going forward, how do you think we are going to address this discrepancy of having access at school but no access at home? Does this create more inequities?
  4. More on inequities with technology opportunities, Alec brought up a good point that sometimes providing students with individual (assistive) technology will ostracize students even more and marginalize them within their own class. To address this, UDL (Universal Design for Learning), is something to consider when planning. In addition, Matt brought up SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol). I’ll share more on what I learned about these models later.
  5. Lastly, I never thought about the point that Victoria brought up regarding usage of technology between different socio-economic groups. A study done in Western Australia looked at home children between 6 and 17 used technology. Participants from higher socio-economic status neighbourhoods were more exposed to school computers, reading, playing musical instruments, and vigorous physical activity. Participants from lower socio-economic status neighbourhoods were more exposed to TV, electronic games, mobile phones, and non-academic computer activities at home. They concluded that “in a sample with near universal access to IT, issues of a digital divide can still be evident. NSES (Neighbourhood Socio-Economic Status) clearly associated with the nature of young people’s current IT use and this may impact their future economic, academic, and health outcomes. This correlates with the previous point about having the necessary skills needed to use technology with a specific purpose, and these purposes may differ between socio-economic groups.

I do believe that Kalyn and Nataly brought up some good points to defend the intentions to provide those without technology access and skills. However, this, unfortunately, doesn’t mean equity. There are so many other factors that weigh into the concept of equity. The initiatives taken place are a starting point but there is a long way to go before technology will bring us closer to equity in the world.

Back to the two other new learnings that I further explored, UDL and SIOP.

UDL is an approach to planning and teaching to help give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It’s flexible because students have different ways to access material, engage in their work, and demonstrate their understanding of concepts in ways that work for them. It is especially helpful for kids that learn and think outside of the box.

Here are some great tips from this website to help introduce a UDL model in your classroom:

  1. Know your students’ strengths and weaknesses
  2. Use digital materials when possible
  3. Share content in a variety of ways
  4. Offer choices for how students demonstrate their knowledge
  5. Take advantage of software supports
  6. Low and No Tech options do exist
  7. Learn from others

This video describes how this school district has found success implementing the UDL model using Google Read/Write, which is an Chrome extension that many students I work with use. Coincidentally enough, myself and a colleague of mine gave a quick tutorial to some of our primary teachers today to show them the benefits of Google Read/Write and identified how it can be used with all students, not just your struggling ones. I guess I am already on the right path with using a UDL model.

SIOP is a research based instructional model that addresses the need our EAL learners, but I argue that it addresses the needs of all students, much like UDL works.

This website has some great tools and strategies for using this comprehensive approach.

This video demonstrates how a teachers uses this model in her third grade classroom. They are always referring back to the objective of the lesson/activity, much like the I Can… statements that my division has. I see a lot of these strategies used by some of the teachers I work with. So again, there are elements of good teaching practices that fit under these two types of models.

Both of these models help address equity in teaching and working with our learners as the diversity continues to grow. Do you know of any other methods or models that works to give tools and opportunities to all learners? I’d love to learn more!

Technology in the Classroom Enhances Learning….Or Does It?

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I was floored by the debates that were presented today and definitely scared of the work I have to do with my partner, Jocelyn, to prepare for our argument next week.  However, I was so glad that Matt and Trevor as well and Amanda and Nancy set the bar high for what the rest of the semester is going to look like for our debates and discussions.  Unfortunately, I now have to become an advertising marketer in order to sell my argument….but I can add that to my list of things to do.

My first opinion from reading the debate topic was that I agreed.  Technology continues to be a tool that is utilized in schools, perhaps not always effectively or seamlessly, but the benefits outweigh the cons from what I’ve experienced.  However, I’m the type of person up for a challenge and looking to enhance my teaching practices and approaches, especially as our classrooms continue to grow in diversity.

Nancy and Amanda had some valid points to their side of the argument; technology allows us to:

  • access the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills (critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity +connection)
  • engage students and deepen the learning
  • create meaning

However, Trevor and Matt did a bang up job of looking at the reverse side of the argument, for which I started to think more about.  This included the idea that technology:

  • is a distraction in the classroom due to temptations not school related (social media, music, games, YouTube viewing)
  • doesn’t mean good pedagogy; “it can make good teachers better but it can make bad ones worse”
  • bombards students with screentime which adds to what they already engage with at home

Bitmoji ImageI did appreciate the discussion that was had after the arguments were presented.  Kalyn made a valid point that if technology is implemented without a purpose, it makes it worse and is likely not enhancing learning.  Curtis reminded us that technology can give students a voice.  Jill identified that some students are muted by technology as it is not the same in person connectedness, as well as technology requires troubleshooting when things go awry, such low battery and updating of applications.

As I listened, I jotted down some thoughts (using technology as my penmanship is chicken scratch and cramps my hands these days) that made me more or less sit on the fence with regards to this argument.  Technology  in the classroom CAN enhance learning when:

  • there is a purpose!
  • there is consistent usage of specific tools and applications
  • all students have access to technology tools that benefit them as a learner for their specific needsBitmoji Image
  • technology can transfer to different settings in the real world and even beyond educational environments
  • students/staff are trained and supported continually as to how to use the technology
  • tech issues don’t arise, batteries are fully charged, updates have been made, wifi (when applicable) is accessible and not spotty

Conversely, technology in the classroom DOES NOT enhance learning when:

  • it is not a transferable tool outside of the classroom into the real world
  • it is used to replace teaching
  • it is used to solve behaviours of studentsBitmoji Image
  • not all students have access
  • it is used for entertainment only
  • there is no follow up/feedback/assessment provided to students for their purpose

View, Field, Meadow, Fence, Sit Kermit
Thanks again to our first great debate.
What side of the fence do you sit on?

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The new normal

March 4, 2020
“I just want March to be over! I’ll finally be able to breathe.”


Well, the abrupt halt to all activities and normal work routine mid-March helped end my misery of busyness and complaining. However, I now had new things that have added a different type of stress and worry to my life…the unknown.

My new normal includes a lot more technology time, which has hindered my daily reliance on exercise of walking to and from each class that I supported as an LRT. Sitting for long periods at a time at my kitchen table hasn’t been the best for my personal well-being, but I have made some adjustments to ensure that I am still getting the activity that I desire as well as teaching my own two kids (9 and 11 years old) and now my niece and nephew (12 and 15 years old) in addition to my own work responsibilities. Hello Netflix and tred….my positive spin-off which includes crushing some popular Netflix series as I use my treadmill to walk/run each morning. Such an invaluable and rewarding routine. I’ll elaborate more on how my personal life has been impacted by this later on in this post. For now, let’s focus on the professional side of things.

Great running shirts from Sarah Marie Design Studios
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Technology with Work

I work with Regina Public so we use Google Classroom, which includes Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Forms, and Gmail among others. We also use Google Meet daily, which is a platform similar to Zoom, but with fewer options and more lag. However, it works with the small number of students that login to connect with our teachers each day.

Because I have been added to each of the Google Classrooms, I get to see first hand how each teacher is using these tools and provide suggestions/guidance to make their lives easier and to get more engagement from students. This engagement is on video chats or academic work that is assigned. For this, I have taken to Twitter to help get some ideas, perspectives on how others are doing things, and tools that have yet to be explored. This is how I am proving to myself to be useful as my regular LRT duties are difficult to replicate in this new type of learning environment, and I am still looking for suggestions on how I can be of more use to my teachers and families. Please, let me know how you’re fulfilling this role if you are a support teacher.

I also join in with the daily Google Meet sessions that most of my teachers offer each day in order to connect with them and their students. I take more of the role of one of the students and play along in the games and activities, such as bingo (with online bingo cards), scavenger hunts, Scattegories, and spell your name workout. However, I do use Google Meet often to have face-to-face conversations or “meetings” with my staff as well. What’s App is another tool I use to group chat with my cohort as I have an Android and they have iPhones.

Technology as a Parent

Much like technology for work, I also use Google Classroom for helping my children and nieces/nephew acquire, complete, and hand in their academic tasks. For some of the things they’ve done on this platform, I’ve asked permission from their teachers to share with the teachers I support and vice versa. Again, I’m trying to feel like I’m earning my keep. By using this technology with my kids, I’ve also been able to show them some tricks of the trade when navigating Google Suite tools or any others for that matter. This has helped them be more independent and efficient at getting their work done. I think they’re seeing the value that I have to offer when mom knows “cool” new tricks to make life easier. In addition, they are in grades 4 and 6 which I have taught for over 10 years, so they are starting to trust that I know what I’m talking about. My nephew said to me today, “Why aren’t you a science teacher?” when I was explaining what arteries were to him. I walked with my head a little higher after that!

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Technology for Me

Here is where I start to realize how many apps/tools I use in a day, much like what Amanda tweeted recently, but most I won’t mention as they aren’t significant and I feel less guilty when it’s not documented.

First off, I use Zoom and Skype on a weekly basis to connect with friends and family to play games or just visit. Although it’s not the same, I can have a glass of chardonnay and not worry about how I’m getting home, so there’s a bit of a silver lining. My husband was even able to connect the JackBox games we have from our Xbox to our friends’ and play with them at the same time.

I have also upped my VarageSale and Facebook Marketplace presence due to my schedule opening up. Now that my focus and attention isn’t set on what rink or ball diamond we are going to next, I am able to see the clutter we have accumulated, for which I have turned into some extra cash. So, I check this daily and help family members to get rid of stuff as well. This is a bit of a side gig that I enjoy participating in as I treat it like a game.

Another app I use to find connect with friends, family as well as to get new ideas is Instagram. Most recently I’ve been following a Calgary based house cleaning company to get motivation and inspiration to clean my house. Tide is the way to go!

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I’ve also taken up reading, but not in your conventional way. I crush audiobooks using the Regina Public Library and Overdrive apps as it allows me to multitask at the same time. The most recent books I’ve tackled are Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and a classic Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Hint…you can increase the reading rate so you can get through even more books in a shorter amount of time!

My last guilty pleasure is your typical game app called Homescapes. Much like Candy Crush, this is mindless but addicting and a fun way to do something while I listen to my audiobooks and prepare for the Sandman to come each night. Thankfully there is a restriction on how long you can play for or else I would need an intervention.

Now that class has started, I will often check on the ECI830 hub to learn from my classmates and to get inspiration for writing my blog. Thanks to Nancy for not knowingly help me organize my ideas for this post!

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