Saturday, February 26, 2011

Math Essentials: An Online Resource

One of our "tech tasks" in Internet for Educators, is to sign up for a Web Based Course (WBC) with Manitoba Education, check it out, and then comment on its design, content, and how we would use it as a resource while teaching the course. Initially, before signing up for a course, I thought that this could really help me as a teacher come up with resources, lesson plans, and assessment ideas. Signing up for and navigating through the course Essential Mathematics 20S has confirmed this.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in my last student teaching placement was finding resources, and lesson plan and assessment ideas for the brand new grade 10 Essentials course I was teaching. Thinking back to that experience and after having the opportunity to navigate through the Essentials course I would suggest that every teacher should use these WBCs as a resource for themselves and their students. The setup of the online Essentials course is really easy to navigate and most internet literate teachers and students wouldn't need any navigation instructions. I really liked that the course was broken into modules that match up with how the course is broken into units in the MB curriculum. Each module is further broken down into short, chronologically arranged lessons that build upon each other. These lessons give definitions, offer explanations, and give examples for students to try. This would make it really easy for a teacher to find resources for any lesson he or she needed to teach. There are also assessments linked to each module and looking through them gave me a lot more ideas if I were to teach this course again.

The other huge benefit I see with using a WBC, beyond using it as a personal resource while preparing units and lessons, is as a teacher, you can get students to sign up for the course and use it themselves. There are often times that students expect teachers to be their first resource when they run into problems or have questions. Becoming this resource is something teachers need to avoid. Instead, teachers could refer students to the website and possibly even teach from the website so students know that where they can find the information they require. Students can refer to the online course outside of class as well, which can prove to be a huge advantage to motivating students to think math outside the classroom.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Scenario: Let's say you end up getting a phone call this spring from the superintenant of the school division you've always dreamed of working for. You knew the interview had gone well, and you were expecting this call. However, as he offers you the job, you remember one part of the interview that makes you sick to your stomach. As a graduate of Brandon University, you had the chance of taking the course Internet for Educators with Mike Nantais. It was this course that influenced you and got you thinking about how to implement your teaching philosophy and the value of reflection. Your whole teaching philosophy revolves around creating Personal Learning Networks for students and getting them to reflect and comment on each others learning experiences in an authentic way, through blogging. You remember in the interview that as you shared your idea of getting students to blog, there was a sense of apprehension in the room. You were then informed that the school division had a policy banning ALL social networking sites, including sites such as blogger, because of the inappropriate material posted by students in the past. As the superintendent waits for your response to the job offer, you wonder if you should keep looking for a division that is more suited to your vision of getting students to blog.

Solution: No fear, accept the job and introduce your new administration to edublogs, a blogging website designed with educators in mind. It is safe, reliable, student friendly, and usually allowed by most school filters where other blogging platforms are not. If your school division is a little more liberal on the filtering, edublogs allows for video embedding, Facebook and Twitter integration, and calendars. It also has great teacher support through email and phone. While it is free to open a blog, the only catch is that to open up all of the features, there is a small fee. However, if the school division is firm on filtering and protecting students from websites and online content that they deem harmful, this small investment will ensure students still get the learning benefits of blogging while still being protected.

Shareski's Ideas and Thoughts

One of our "tech tasks" in our Internet for Educators class involves finding an established edublogger (meaning someone in the education world that blogs), follow them, and then blog about why we have decided to follow the blog and some observations we have made along the way. After watching and blogging about the video "Teaching: The Moral Imperative" produced by Dean Shareski, a Digital Learning Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, SK, I decided to follow his blog entitled Ideas and Thoughts (

Shareski is a deep and innovative thinker when it comes to the world of educating today's kids. He sees the big picture, while at the same time he accepts the realities of the real world. For example, he wonders out loud (or in digital writing is more accurate) if all student learning has to be explicitly tied to learning outcomes. Perhaps teachers should get students to be creative and create something that brings them joy (he is specifically talking about a lip-synced video in his blog) that may not be totally curriculum based. The thing I love about his blog, as it is in this case, is he "wonders out loud". This means the comments (many coming from other education professionals) are just as important as the blog post itself. Instead of pushing his views, he brings forth innovative and creative thinking, and allows others to comment. I believe that through dialogue regarding education issues happening right now in the classroom, education reform will continue to move forward and students will benefit. My hope is that when I have my own classroom, I can open up my thoughts, issues, and experiences to the world in the same way and learn along with the rest of the education world, as Shareski is doing.

On the lighter side, I like this blog because of Shareski's sense of humour. See his post on Why parents should have Facebook accounts.

Personal ICT Devices in the Classroom

We all know that personal ICT devices (smartphones, tablets, and laptops) are becoming the rage. In class, we developed a presentation ranking the different types of devices against criteria outlining student learning. Scores and rankings are determined from our personal experience of using the devices and research (see articles in the presentation).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Are You Going To Do?

"Tomorrow you are going to show up and be asked to teach French, Phys. Ed., or Math, something you are not familiar with. What are you going to do?" This was the opening question by Darren Kuropatwa (@dkuropatwa), the most recent presenter in our Internet for Educators class. Our first classroom response was looking it up on YouTube. Personally, my first thought was ask someone who knows. These responses prove a point, knowledge is not linear, it is networked. As a teacher, if knowledge was linear, we would have to learn as students learn in school today; building one concept upon another until we become experts. Instead, we collaborate with each other and experts to building a network of knowledge. If we learn this way, shouldn't we be teaching our students that way as well?

In "the system" of education that we are all familiar with today, collaboration is seen as cheating. We evaluate each student as an individual, while in real life it's more important that students know where to go to find information they need to know. To allow ALL our students to succeed individually, we as teachers adapt and modify the curriculum. Frankly, I think this is a cop-out and a way to "dumb down" the material. While students may get good grades and "succeed" at school with this mentality, I believe we are setting up our future society to fail. On top of this, I think it is ridiculous that we cheat our students the chance to teach each other and seek outside sources by calling collaboration cheating. Our job as teachers is to help students learn how to find the solution to a problem through collaboration. This is a skill that transfers to the real world.

As Darren mentioned in his presentation, changing the process of education starts with creating a classroom culture where making mistakes is the norm that everybody can learn from; this includes us as the teachers. Secondly, we must take a metacognitive approach to the classroom. This means students should spend more time evaluating given solutions and finding errors in previous works. Identifying and evaluating will allow students to become experts in the fields they are studying, with the end result being improving students' own products. Lastly, when in comes time for students to produce something meaningful to show their learning, they should be allowed to do so in collaboration with their peers. This product should incorporate a network of knowledge that students can be proud of. Publishing the product will reinforce this ownership and allow students to receive meaningful feedback from their peers, families, community, and the world. Using the internet as a tool for students to be creative in their learning products, will only increase their published work to the outside world, allow for greater networking of ideas, and increase feedback and metacognitive processes that will allow students to acquire skills crucial to their success.

These observations keep begging the question, what are you as an educator going to do? You know how you learn when you are faced with a difficult problem. Are you going to set up students for success by giving them meaningful and challenging problems, encouraging collaboration in search of the solutions, create a culture where mistakes are encouraged and evaluated, and present solutions through publishing student learning? Or, will you be a proponent of the present education system where we continue to adapt and modify the curriculum to allow for student success in the classroom, but set them up for failure in the real world.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Curious Couros

Last week we had the opportunity to Skype with George Couros, a principal from Stony Plain, Alberta. He had some really curious observations about student learning that really peaked my interest. His main goal was to give us as teachers some student perspective. For example, he asked the question, "How well are students learning when they play XBox360 on their huge TVs at home after school and then we try and get them to learn by getting them to read from textbooks older than their parents?" This got me thinking that while the curriculum content that we as teachers are required to teach is fairly static, the process of teaching will dictate how successful students are learning the material. In a world that is ever changing, an authentic process, using tools that the real world uses, is the only way that makes sense.

Another question that came up as part of our Skype conversation that really stuck with me was, "If we are going to use social networking sites and online blogs as part of student learning, under what names students should publish online material?" George advocates that students DO NOT hide behind fake names online and he has good logic behind this decision. He asked, "Are students responsible for the things they say online, just as if they had said them in any other context?" The resounding agreement is YES. Students should be held accountable for what they say online and encouraged to build a positive image, just as we encourage them to build a positive image in school. If students use their real names online, they will be held accountable. In George's school, most students use twitter as a way to communicate both in and out of school. I thought this was a great idea because for a number of reasons. First off, teachers could ask students to tweet their answer to a question brought up in class. Students would need to learn the skills to articulate their ideas in 140 characters or less, cutting straight to the point. Secondly, they have the opportunity to follow fellow classmates and see other opinions and perspectives. Thirdly, students can follow experts in the topics they are studying and get real world answers quickly, instead of dusting off a textbook with information that may be fifty years old.

Since the presentation, I have been following George Couros on Twitter (@gcouros). By tapping into his expertise and adding him to my learning network, I am hoping to continue to learn about how to make the process of learning relevant, authentic, and engaging to students. His presentation has made me curious about how to implement this into my classroom. If I continue to reflect, my curiosity is driving my learning. So, in essence, this presentation has made me a Curious George! In general, curiosity drives learning. This leads me to my job as a teacher and my goal as I move into the classroom; I want to create a classroom that makes all students curious like Couros through an authentic process that engages them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sharing: A Waste of Time?

I recently watched a video with the message "teaching is sharing" produced by an in-service teacher named Dean Shareski (ironic that his last name matches his message!). Before watching the video, I had the impression that this would be just another teacher talking about another responsibility that I, as a teacher, would not have time to do. According to this perspective, not only would I need to get through the entire curriculum in an awful short period of time, I would need to share my teaching practices with the world. This would mean taking up one thing I would not have, time. However, much to my surprise, the sharing perspective of Shareski has changed the way I've thought about sharing as part of my job as an educator.

While it may seem I'm going a bit off track here, let me lead you through the thought process of what “teaching is sharing" has clarified for me. One of the observations I've made while on my student teaching placements is that in classrooms today, many of the ideas, technologies, and ways of delivering lessons are the same as when we were in school. Obviously, as we have been learning these last two years in the Faculty of Education, this is not the best way to teach. However, I think new teachers resort back to these traditional methods of delivering information, despite knowing there is a better way, because with all the new responsibilities, the last thing they have time for is piloting something totally different. For instance, if I am a new teacher and everyone in my PLN is using traditional delivery techniques, I will be tempted to do the same. This occurred all the time in my student teaching placement. The main resource in my PLN in each of my placements was my cooperating teacher. If he or she used the traditional information transmission mode of teaching, this is what I resorted to because this is the resources I had access to and this is what the students in my classes were familiar with. However, this creates a problem. Without people trying new ideas, change and educational reform will NEVER occur.

While this is thinking really big picture, I believe Gandhi said it best. "Be the change you want to see in the world." However, he did not say you had to do it by yourself and I believe this is where the sharing comes in. Every teacher, either by intention or not, is part of a PLN. This means as teachers, we are being influenced by the people we correspond with on a daily basis. The benefit of  being part of a PLN is that if done intentionally, we can be influenced and share ideas with a group of professionals that are all working toward creating innovative classrooms that seek out to implement a classroom where students learn to their full potential. However, if we expect to gain from this PLN, this also means that we must contribute to this new community. As teachers, we can all pilot small things and share the results with everyone that is part of our PLN, whether these ideas work or not. We all agree that students need more opportunities to work on authentic tasks in authentic ways using new and authentic technologies. However, we can't expect to implement total education reform without knowing how it looks. Hopefully by implementing a couple of things in our classrooms, and then sharing the results and receiving feedback and other new ideas from our PLN, together we can create the education reform that we know will work in our changing world. Change does not happen over night. It happens in small steps, taking ideas from those around us, modifying them to suit our environment and situation, and then sharing the results so others, our students in this case, can benefit.

So going back to my preconceived notion that sharing is a waste of my precious time as a teacher. This idea is faulty because sharing will actually save me time. By connecting with my intentionally chosen PLN, I will gain much more insight than I can ever contribute. Furthermore, an ever changing world and an adapting PLN will also produce ever changing and authentic ideas for classroom use that will engage students, thus minimizing classroom management issues, and saving time.

For more information on the idea of teaching is sharing see the video below. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thinking About the Finished Product

A couple weeks ago, our instructor in Internet for Educators introduced us to some useful, and free, internet sites including Evernote, Slideshare, Livebinders, Animoto, BlipFM, Prezi, and Shape Collage to name a few. While playing around on these sites, and seeing the never ending possibilities someone as uncreative like me could produce (see my last post for example), left me wondering why we don't encourage students to use these in the classroom.

Let me explain. Last spring, I had the opportunity to teach grade 9 and 10 geography. In my unit on natural resources, I got students to get into small groups, pick a significant natural resource in Canada, do some research on it, and present the information they found in the form of a handmade poster. Now looking back, the process of learning worked well and students were engaged until it came to presenting the information. How practical is making a handmade poster? Where are students going to use that skill in life after school?

In my geography classes, I should have introduced students to free online tools that would have sparked their creativity as Animoto sparked mine. Students could have presented a Prezi, included a collage using Shape Collage, or even made a poster, but using pictures compiled on Flikr and using a poster template in PowerPoint. This would have made a professional looking product and the skills they developed while showing their learning would have transferred into their lives beyond the classroom. Now part of the problem in my situation was my lack of experience with these tools and the lack of computers for students to work on. However, these are things we as educators should be thinking about. Even if it’s not in the curriculum, our job as teachers is to help students succeed outside of school. In a constantly evolving, technology driven world, assigning handmade posters as the finished product will not cut it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Animoto - A Florida Christmas

Here is a video I created using Animoto of a family trip to Florida over Christmas this past year. This tool could be great for students in the classroom. Have a look.

Create your own video slideshow at