Saturday, August 4, 2012

Journal 10-"Sure you're resilient, but should you have to be?"

This journal article meets NETS 5 (Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership).

Click here to read the article!

Fingal rants about one of the most aggravating drawbacks to technology: when it doesn't work. Teachers have been encouraged to be patient, have a back-up plan, and be adaptable when it comes to technology in the classroom. The author points out that this mindset is hypocritical if teachers are to successfully use technology to its potential in the classroom. Although the author doesn't present a solution to the problem, she challenges tech users and producers to improve by raising awareness about one of technology's most enraging problems.

How does this article relate to you personally?
For instance, in a digital-age where we are becoming more and more dependent on computers and internet speed, consider how helpless you felt the last time there was a power outage. My internet didn't work properly the first 6 months I lived in my current apartment, claimed to be due to "old wiring" by Time Warner. Over the next few months, the back-and-forth between my landlord, Time Warner, and SDG&E was so enraging, I considered moving. Magically, Time Warner futzed with some wire, or box, or something else vague and, either proprietary, or more likely the "technician" tapped it, shook it, and spun on his head three times while whistling "I've Been Working on the Railroad" instead. Anyway, it's been working, knock on wood, for the last few months as I type this now on my laptop in my kitchen wirelessly.
 Maybe that's an extreme example of a technology glitch but I certainly can relate to the inconvenience (to put it mildly) of technology glitches, breakdowns, and other so-called "fatal errors" in the classroom. More and more, schools and educators, as well as society, are integrating technology into their workplace and lifestyles. Undoubtedly, it can make our lives more convenient, efficient, and productive, but Fingal points out the danger of becoming too dependent on technology that is still unreliable. For instance, at many schools, especially at the secondary and college level, students enroll in their courses on-line. In the article, Cale Birk, a principal from Canada, describes his frustration when their system froze just when freshmen were in the computer lab signing up for their courses next semester. I certainly have experienced similar glitches when trying to submit homework on-line. In fact, I believe the computer to the right of me hasn't been usable for the entire term I've been in this class (Education 422).

What's the solution?
As an educator, you have to be one step ahead. I don't just type on my lap-top without making sure my autosave is turned on every 5 minutes. That's just common sense. In the classroom, I, as a teacher, have to be prepared. That goes for teaching in general, not just with respect to technology. I'm not psychic, and I will never know what obstacles are going to be in my way to conduct a successful lesson plan. But I can prepare for common pitfalls. I like to prepare for Murphy's Law--when I drive to work, I expect it take an extra 15 minutes, due to getting lost, not having a place to park, or traffic congestion. (And, boy, do I love when my GPS re-routes me due to detection of a traffic jam up ahead! An example of when technology works!) I use a similar approach to help me think on my feet in the classroom. If I want to do a lesson plan on the circulatory system, for instance, I might have 3 different possible variations prepared so that I can choose the best one for those students and that particular day. One might be a video embedded into a Prezi presentation, but I would also have a PowerPoint presentation of the same thing, backed up on a flash drive. I would also have a handout, a group discussion, an activity planned. This would be way too much for one day, but I would never run out of great ways to teach my students what I had intended. Just like a teacher has to consider how to adapt when a student is absent, a teacher has to be prepared for unexpected technology glitches as well. If I take the same approach to prepare for both, it doesn't seem like such a big deal.

This meets NETS 5: "Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership".

Links to Related Articles:
Ferriter (2012): "Technology is about efficiency".
Ferriter follow-up to technology efficiency article
Oschner article about the future classroom.

Fingal, D. (2012, May). Bloggers beat: Sure, you're resilient, but should you have to be?. Retrieved from

Journal 9-- "First Graders with iPads?"

This journal article is related to NETS 2 ("Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments").

Getting and Swainey describe how teachers can use iPads as a teaching tool in the classroom. In this article, an experiment at Hilltop Elementary in Minnesota is described. First graders, who were identified as being "at-risk" readers, utilized iPads as learning tools to teach, engage, and excite students to read. The teachers were surprised at how easy it was to manage proper use of iPads in the classroom. Several reading apps were used to get kids excited about reading. The experiment was successful, the "at-risk" students increased their reading levels and became excited about reading.

How did the teacher use iPads to improve reading proficiency levels for her first graders?
It's important to note that the teacher used the iPad as a tool and did not rely solely on the iPad to teach the first graders how to read. First, strict classroom management rules were spelled out so students understood what was expected of them in properly using the iPads. They were not allowed to walk around with them (iPads break very easily when dropped; I know--it's already happened to me once. This can be very expensive to fix!), and teacher aides were at each station to monitor proper iPad use. Students who could not follow the rules lost iPad priveleges. Students enjoyed using the iPads so much that they followed the rules very obediently; they didn't want to lose iPad time! The teacher then used Apps for sight-word recognition (K-3 Sight Words), fluency (Talking Tom), comprehension (Reading A-Z), and vocabulary (Kid Whiteboard). The teacher then engaged the students and checked for proficiency through group discussions and interactive communication lessons. For instance, one activity the first graders particularly enjoyed was recording themselves reading out loud (using a Voice Memos app) and then swapping iPads with a buddy. Then, they practiced following along with the reading while listening to their buddy's narrative.

How can I use iPads in my classroom to teach high school science?
I was a little skeptical before reading this article about allowing high school students to use iPads. How can I ensure proper use of iPads and make sure students are staying on-task? I don't need a class of experts at playing Angry Birds. But, if first-graders can do it, then so can high school students. By playing out very clear groundrules and expectations for the students before giving them access to the iPads, a lot of discipline issues can be avoided. In addition, use of the ­iPad is a privelege that can easily be lost if a student misuses it. There are many apps useful for teaching biology. I looked up a few and listed them below. The "Education" section of the apps for iPad on the Apple Store was fun to peruse. I would love the opportunity to try them out with my future students!­

Cell and Cell Structure--an app where students can learn about cells through interactive modules, games, and quizzes. 

Ted Talks--this app allows you to use all of the "Ted Talks", entertaining and informative lectures pertaining to education. More useful for the teacher than the student but a great way for a teacher to prepare for lessons.

Star Walk--An interactive app that allows you to identify constellations, stars, and planets very easily. Just point your iPad at the sky, and "Star Walk" will tell you what you're looking at!

Getting, S. and Swainey, K. (2012, August). First graders with 
ipads?. Retrieved from

Journal 8--Adaptive Technology

This article meets NETS 4 (Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility). 
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is any type of communication, either oral, non-oral, or through assitive technology devices. It addresses the needs of those with communication disorders, ranging from cerebral palsy, to autism, to those with language, speech and hearing impairments. The goal is to enable all people, including those with disabilities, to 1) communicate effectively and 2) to communicate quickly. AAC devices help those in need to be able to better communicate with others. AAC includes both unaided communication systems, such as: body language, gestures and sign langauge; and also aided communication, which requires the use of tools to assist in communication.

Text-to-Speech Devices:
Low-Tech Tool:
For those with visual impairments, there are a myraid of audio devices that easily convert text to oral speech. Students who suffer from blindness, from instance can now basically convert any text they want to their own "books on tape". There are several ways to do this, and it is becoming increasingly easier. For instance, Librovox offers a public database of a vast libarary of audio books available, including all the classics, like Shakespeare. Audible, an Amazon company, is another source of audiobooks which can be directly downloaded to your iPhone, iPod, or other device. Almost any text can now be converted to audio, very easily, using free apps compitable with a variety of listening devices, computers, and the internet. One example is Odiogo, a free, web-based service that converts text on your blog to audio. I simply added my e-mail and blog web address to sign up, and Odiogo created an audio-to-text widget that converts all of the text on my blog to audio at the convenient push of a button.

High-Tech Tool:
Zygo is a company that specializes in alternative communication and assistive technology. I particularly liked the "Allora", a translator that converts words typed on a keyboard to an automated, audio voice. It also has a recording device for students who might want to preserve their orally-produced statement, such as one with a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Allora also offers "word prediction", which guesses what word is being after only entering the first few letters of the word. This feature boasts reducing keystrokes to 50% to increase speed of communication. This summer, during on of my observations in a mild-to-moderate special-needs classroom, I actually witnessed a 7th-grade student with high-functioning autism use this device to communicate with his teachers.

Input devices allows users with special needs to "input" data into their computers more easily. These devices include: joysticks, switches, modified keyboards, trackballs, and modified mice, just to name a few. These devices have been modified to make it easier for users with various disabilities to utilize. Keyboards modifications include enlarged keys, trackballs may be easier to control, and a modified mouse may not require as much pressure to control for users suffering from muscular or neurological disabilities. These are just some, out of many, types of devices that there are available for students with special needs.

Hardware tool:
Headmouse Extreme is a modified mouse that is designed to assist those with limited mobillity. An optical senser mounted to the top of the computer senses the user's head movements. The movements are translated to the mouse on the computer so the user can control where the mouse goes with his head.

Software tool:
An example of a software tool is 2+2, math software for students with visual impairments, designed by Techmatrix. Geared to teach basic math and pre-algebra skills to elementary-age students, 2+2 comes with spoken text and large print. It is also switch/scan accessible so it can easily interface with your hardware input device. In addition, the font size, style, color, and background can be formatted to the students' specific needs.

Further resources:

·     AAC Institute

Please check out Mike's blog and Melanie's blog for more great information on Adaptive Technology!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Journal 7: My Personal Learning Network

This journal article meets NETS 5.

1. A "personal learning network" (PLN) is an on-line network of contacts that can be a valuable resource for today's educator. By using Twitter, School 2.0, the Educator's PLN, and Diigo, I've created my own PLN. This has helped me connect with other teachers that have similar interests. I can virtually chat with anyone from all over the globe using a PLN. As a new teacher, this is very informative in helping me develop new ideas and keep current on topics in education, technology, and biology, the subject I plan to teach. In addition to virtual chatting to exchange ideas, educators can also exchange links to direct colleagues to resources they've found useful. As a teacher, I will be able to collect a database of useful biology links, keep current on news in biology, and get great lesson plan ideas. Once in the classroom, I can engage students in an on-line chat setting to foster group discussions, study groups, or help students after school by answering questions quickly.

2. Using an account for only educational and professional purposes (@biorachelteach), I use Twitter to connect with other educators. Twitter is a web-based social networking tool that allows you to directly message others of your choice, individuals or groups. You can also participate in chats of interest, such as #edchat or #ntchat. I selected people to follow by searching for groups, topics and people with similar interests, such as #biology and #teacher. I'm following 72 people in my network, composed of colleagues from my 422 class and other educators. I'm also following several biological science groups to stay up-to-date on what's current in the field. My favorites are @BiologyEdu, @ScienceEduc, @NSTA (National Science and Technology Association), and @NatGeo.

I also participated in the New Teacher Chat, #ntchat, on Wednesday, August 1st at 5 pm (PDT). This very fast-paced chat was packed full of useful information for new educators. Using HootSuite, a free, web-based platform to help manage your tweets and Twitter chats, I was able to re-read or pause posts during the chats to get the most information out of the deluge of tweets that occurred during the hour on #ntchat. I was able to connect with 2 other biology teachers, one who is a new teacher like me, and the other, a veteran biology teacher looking to help out new teachers. The veteran bio teacher even offered to send me useful biology teaching links to give me ideas for the classroom. In addition to making new connections, I also was referred to several notable links, including a news story from National Geographic about the ongoing and illegal hunting of dolphins and whales. I found the chat a bit overwhelming but manageable with HootSuite. The pros definitely outweigh the cons, however, as I learned many new educational tidbits.

3. I used Diigo, a social bookmarking tool, to make an archived library of useful science and educational articles. These articles can be shared with other educators. In addition, I can search for articles others have saved on Diigo and add them to my library. Each article is "tagged" with keywords, relevant to that article. These keywords help others locate the articles when doing searches. It also helps me to connect to others interested in similar keywords. I selected ten people and four groups to follow on Diigo, based on shared similar interests, specifically education and biology. I can easily peruse articles they have archived in their library and then add them to mine. One nice feature of Diigo is that it recommends new groups, people, or articles to follow, based on interests. Diigo can direct me to new groups of relevance I wasn't aware of. My favorite group is "Biology Teacher".

4. I joined the digital discussion forums: The Educator's PLN. Both are on-line forums for educators to exchange ideas and network. Each has groups I can join, educators I can chat with, and areas where I can explore and upload relevant articles and videos. The Educator's PLN leads #edchat on Twitter as well. On the Educator's PLN, I explored some of the links discussed in the "Blog" section. Since I'm currently using Weebly to compose a website on CyberSafety, I read the article about using Weebly, which gave me more information about how best to use Weebly to suit my educational needs. The article includes a link for more information about Weebly for Educators as well as some links to other sites educators have created using Weebly.

Journal 6: Ten Reasons to Get Rid of Homework

'“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”' photo (c) 2010, Kate Ter Haar - license:

 This journal article meets NETS 1.

In this article, Spencer advocates getting rid of homework completely and focusing on using time at school to do everything school-related. Homework should be optional since it usually does not help engage students in the material or teach them the material. Students and parents can begin to resent the teacher who assigns too much homework. Since children have many extracurricular activities and responsibilities in today's modern society, homework should be eradicated.

What is your personal opinion on homework?
I don't agree with sending students home with busy work just to give them homework. However, independent work is a critical skill that students must learn in all subjects since they will be expected to know how to work productively alone in their future careers. In addition, math and science is a very tough subject. Students need lots of practice on math problems to solidify what they've learned in class. Biology is a subject that requires a lot of reading, and using class-time for such an activity would be wasteful. After students learn new material, they will need to spend some time reflecting, studying, and taking notes to internalize the new information. I like to assign reflective essays pertaining to biology topics to ensure they are learning the material in a way that's meaningful for them. Although students don't necessarily need to do independent work at home, they still need to do this work to really master the material they learn at school. Even though 6 hours a day seems like a long time, each student will only spend about an hour in my class each day. That is just not enough time to master all the standards they are expected to know. 

How can homework be designed to be more engaging and exciting for students?
At the school where I currently teach, Fusion Academy, we have eliminated "homework" completely. We specialize in educating students who have had poor experiences in the public school system and are at risk for dropping out. They have not been successful in doing homework in the past. Much of this, I've observed, is a lack of students knowing how to do homework. Instead, we assign each student 1 hour of "Homework Cafe" for each class they take. After each class, they retreat to the Homework Cafe where they complete their independent work. Then, they sign out with each teacher so he can check over the assignment and make sure it was completed correctly. When the student goes home at the end of the day, she has no homework hanging over her head, leaving more time for extracurricular activities and family time. Students thrive with a more guided approach to doing homework.   

In addition, I strive to make my homework assignments for my students meaningful. They get to decide on topics they want to write about. Having control over their homework gives them a sense of ownership, and students tend to be more committed to producing good work. In addition, selecting topics of interest to them helps engage them in the material since they are researching topics of interest to them personally. Making the homework assignments interesting and applicable to each student creates enthusiasm, making the assignment much easier for the student to complete. 

Spencer, J. T. (2011, September 19). Ten reasons to get rid of homework (and five alternatives). Retrieved from

Article Link