Monday, October 31, 2011

English Language Learners include More than Students

Mrs. Darla Coyle teaches at the Middle School. Most of you probably already know that, but did you know that she is not only teaching middle school students but also some of their parents? Currently, there are "25 parents committed to attending our adult class once a week with an additional 15 parents on a waiting list," according to Mrs. Coyle. Just like the middle school students she teaches, these parents use Rosetta Stone software to help develop their English language skills. The new version of Rosetta Stone allows users "to speak into the microphone and the program will evaluate the level of correct pronunciation they use and correct their pronunciation." There are also lots of activities that help develop English by "clicking and typing answers."

In addition to teaching both students and their parents English language skills, Mrs. Coyle is also teaching them computer skills. She states that many of the students and parents have never used a computer before. Therefore, these ELL classes also provide the opportunity to pass on such basic computer skills as turning the computer on and off, developing mouse control, accessing the Internet, speaking into the microphone, and so on. These skills will certainly serve the parents well in a workforce that is becoming more and more technology dependent.

We know that one of the most important things we can do in education today is to involve parents in their students' education. When we can go even further and educate the parents themselves, we are advancing the skill sets of whole families!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Skype Brings Governor to Storm Lake High School

On Thursday, October 27, Mr. Jason Stoltzfus' Government students will be Skyping with Governor Terry Branstad. The topic of discussion will be the governor's blueprint for improving Iowa education. Information about this plan can be accessed at the following website:

Branstad-Reynolds administration’s blueprint unveils vision for Iowa’s education remodel

Mr. Stoltzfus and the students have submitted questions to the governor's office but will also have an opportunity to ask questions that come to mind during the session.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Skype, it is a free product that allows you to video conference through the Internet with people in different locations. Governor Branstad will be able to see and hear the students here, while they will be able to see and hear him. This is such a wonderful way for our students to use technology to learn about something that will impact them directly. Other departments in our district have used Skype successfully to check out the weather in other parts of the country, to hear from educational experts from distant places, to conduct interviews, and to collaborate with students in other classrooms. It is a good EdTech tool to have in one's toolbox.

It's also a great way to stay in contact with relatives who are far away!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ITEC has me Pumped!

I had the privilege of attending the annual Iowa Technology and Education Conference on Monday and Tuesday this week and came back with so many good ideas and even more motivation to continue to push for an educational environment where students are at the center of their own learning. For too many years we've continued with the sage on a stage model of teaching where the teacher attempts to pour knowledge from her brain into her students' brains, where a teacher uses technology to present while students watch. While there are times this can be an effective way of teaching, it's become far less viable. The reason for this is that information is available to all of us all the time from the Internet. I want to find the area of a rectangle? I can look it up in a matter of seconds. I wonder where the Middle East is? Bingo, the map appears. What does the Periodic Table look like now? Googled and done!

Teachers must make a transition and become partners in the learning process. They must teach students where information is, how to evaluate its effectiveness, how to organize it and understand it. Teachers must give students the chance to learn about their world through authentic learning situations, situations in which the students are doing the creating. Write a novel. Compose a song. Solve a community problem. Draw up the plans for a house. Make a strategic plan for the US in Libya. Do you see how these projects can teach math and science and writing skills and presentation methods and history? Furthermore, students must be working together. Not only should they be collaborating with their peers in their classrooms, but they should be collaborating with students in classrooms across the world. They should be collaborating with experts on the topics they are learning. They should be learning to problem-solve with all the resources that are out there, resources that are as close as the Internet connected devices we put in their hands.

This new paradigm of teaching and learning is hard for some to grasp and hard for some to accept. I have a hard time with the excuses, though. As you all know, I'm not some young pup fresh out of college, a digital native who grew up connected. I'm a middle aged teacher who saw the value of technology for learning a long time ago and who has made every professional decision over the past fifteen years to become both a technology hardware/network expert and also an educational technology leader. It is my passion! I watch my own children look up words they don't know with the click of a button as they read books. I see them refer to maps about regions of the world they hear about in the news or read about in a novel. I see them talk to cousins clear across the nation. I see them work on their projects and create presentations about issues they care about. I see them share their knowledge with their peers across town. Let me go even further. I see my almost eighty year old father access his medical records online. I see him look up legal precedents from law libraries online. I watch him file his briefs online. I see him receive emails from and send emails to his clients.

This is the world we live in! The Internet is how business is done. It is a spectacular place to learn. It is doing our students no favors to "protect" them from this treasure trove of knowledge. We must teach them responsible and productive ways of using the Internet.

I am so proud of how far we've come in the Storm Lake Schools. Our teachers are working very hard to integrate technology into learning, but there is such an urgency to keep moving forward and not to get complacent. Purchasing devices is easy, but it's not the hardware. It's funny how we can argue over that when the real conversation should be how can we use the hardware to learn. It's the conversation of how we can involve our students in their own learning. It's the conversation about the connectedness the world has never seen before. It is so exciting!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP, Steve Jobs

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes...the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules...You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things...they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."--Steve Jobs

May we never overlook the genius in each and every one of our students.

Students Use Tech to Learn

I had a teacher in my office a couple days ago wondering how to share his PowerPoint presentations with students in a better way than just standing in front of the class and delivering or just passing around a USB drive. He has a classroom website, so the solution was to load the presentations in Google Docs, share them out, and then link them to his website. It made it so easy for students to access the PowerPoint tutorials, for independent use in the classroom, as well as for access from home for those who have Internet access.

I had a conversation yesterday with the second year teacher that I mentor about the web sites that his eighth grade students are making. He's hoping that by the time they are through, they will be a kind of portfolio for them. We also visited about how he makes sure that students know that when they use technology to present to a group, there are choices, including PowerPoint, Google presentation, and Prezi. He knows that it's usually wrong to assign a student a particular tech product when the product is merely a tool for learning.

I worked with a science teacher a few days ago as he got students logged into our Google Apps domain, so they could collaborate on Google Docs.

I met with a group of staff members at the elementary school yesterday to visit about their plans for reinforcing and expanding the learning of their teachers when it comes to the technologies they have available in their building for student use. Their focus on blogging as a way for students to improve their writing is exciting. The options it opens up for collaboration and learning outside the walls of the classroom is remarkable. The fact that they shared their student technology use with the parents who came to parent night last night makes my heart sing!

I saw a trouble ticket for one of my techs go by asking for access to Rosetta Stone in a different lab than where the students are currently using it, because it would be more convenient for the adult learners that are coming into the building after hours.

When I requested that teachers send me some examples of student use of technology in their classrooms, one PLC shared their Google spreadsheet with me, where they personally track their student technology use!

I will be sharing more specifics of student technology use as teachers send me their reports. I'm just so proud of the work our teachers are doing with technology. There's no doubt that our teachers are taking very seriously the use of technology to increase student learning.