Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Don't Be Afraid To Fail / Be a Learner

As a future teacher, I constantly have the same thoughts reappear in my head. "Should I use this technology or that technology?" "Which app is best for this task?" "What activity would be best for this lesson?"  Seriously, how do you really know?  I have finally come to the realization that at some point you simply have to let loose and go with what you feel.  Yes, it is important as a teacher to do your research to make sure you don't pick a "dud" app or do an activity that doesn't apply to the lesson.  I am simply saying that I am not going to exhaust my time finding out every little detail.

I am already dreading the first year I actually start teaching.  I know that my 8 hour school day will turn into a 12+ hour work day.  That's just the simple fact of being a first year teacher (or any teacher).  Thus, my time needs to be spent on preparing the lesson and not debating on how to teach it.  With that said, I can expect to fail.  A lesson I work really hard on and thought was brilliant will turn out to be disliked by a majority of the students.  This will be discouraging and feel like time wasted, but it is something I must accept and move on from.  There is always the next lesson, chapter, and year to try something different. All the risks and failures will be worth it when one of our lessons really "hits home" with our students.  Then we have a base to build off of.  Even veteran teachers should expect to fail at times, as they should continually be trying new "things" as well.

It is also important to remember that while we have the classification as "the teacher", we are still learners.  I'll be the first to admit that I am hesitant to try new things at times because I'm not sure of how to use them, which is silly.  Students are starting to use technology at the kindergarten level, so it is idiotic to think that by middle school they don't have knowledge to give us about using some of the technologies in the classroom.  Be open to letting them teach you how to use them and do some learning!

This blog is simply a reminder that our students are unique, and the ways we are able to teach them are becoming extremely unique.  Don't be afraid to try something new, and just because something didn't work for another teacher doesn't mean it won't work for you and your students.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

MOOCS: Massive Open Online Courses

MOOCS have become increasingly popular over the years.  I think these courses resemble flipped instruction in the way that they are lectures online.  The students can access them whenever they want and can watch the lecture numerous times so they can understand the material.  This can be extremely helpful for some students.  There can be as many as 15,000 students enrolled in one class learning from one teacher.  They may be able to contact each other and help each other with the material.  To me, Khan Academy is similar to MOOCS also, except that it is not a class.  It provides students with videos that run through examples in many classes in science and math.  Also, MOOCS=$FREE.  How can any college student go wrong with that?  With the rising costs of college tuition, students look for any way to get anything for free.  I know I would take a MOOC, if they actually counted for college credit.  I believe some college students will enroll in MOOCS in addition to their paid college courses for more help.

I do have some concerns with MOOCS though and student/teacher interaction is one of them.  If there is a classroom of 15,000 students how is one teacher supposed to help all of them if they all have a question?  Your inbox would be overflowing with emails and I would not know where to start.  Maybe I have some more to research on MOOCS, but I think that student/teacher interaction would be difficult.  Another concern is that MOOCS are not accepted at many places for college credit since they are free.  One could essentially learn all the same material as a student who paid for school, but they do not officially have a degree since they did not pay for it.

MOOCS take a tremendous amount of time to prepare, as many as 100 hours of hard work before the semester starts.  These hours are unpaid since they are not paid for by students, unless the teacher  is doing it as a side job.  I think it is great that teachers want to provide college students with a free education and I would definitely do that if I was still able to support my family.  I think education could solve this if they just made college tuition cheaper.  I believe this would give students a better opportunity to enter college, and they could integrate MOOCS in some way.  If anyone has any ideas I think it would be worth exploring.

All in all I think MOOCS are a great idea.  It is just that universities do not necessarily accept them for credit since they were not paid for.  We are in a rapidly changing time for education and a free education is something students want.  Will we ever have a free college education? Maybe?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Educational Technology: Leveling the Playing Field

Throughout this course and throughout this blog, we have identified several reasons why technology should be used in a math classroom. These reasons have been anything from increasing student engagement, to more individualized education, to the availability of millions of different educational tools in the palm of your hand. All of these reasons highlight the overwhelming positives of having technology in the classroom. However, I really think if I had to sum it all up into one reason, I would say that educational technology levels the playing field.

What I mean when I say that it levels the playing field is that it allows all parties involved to have the same opportunities of anyone else in education. This includes students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the general public. I will go into more depth on some of these.

The most important of all the people educational technology affects is, of course, the students. Educational technology has opened new doors to countless opportunities that many students never had before. It used to be that if a student was bad at arithmetic, all he/she could do is do the same types of practice problems over and over until hopefully something clicked. Now, with all the apps, games, videos, and online tutors, students have a vast amount of resources at their finger tips. No longer are students handicapped by the information that is available to them. This has certainly leveled the playing field in the sense that all students now have access to information that they can use to better themselves in the math classroom.

Technology has also certainly leveled the playing field for teachers. With all of the blogs, videos, and apps out there for teaching, the sharing of ideas has become part of the profession. It used to be that if a teacher had a great lesson idea or way of explaining a concept, that idea only circulated to other teachers if it were by word of mouth or a workshop. Now, though, a teacher can post a really cool lesson idea one day, and the next day there could be hundreds of teachers around the world using that same lesson. In order to create a better world, we must educate our students to the highest of our ability levels. The sharing of great lessons and ideas contributes to the overall goal of education, which is to provide all students with the best education possible. Another way that technology has leveled the playing field is by providing more resources for teachers to use in order to create more authentic activities. As we move into the era of Common Core, we all know that we are striving for more authentic activities to create real-world relevance for our students. Before technology, students were handcuffed by the textbooks to either use their examples or completely come up with a new idea all on their own. Now, teachers have access to millions of activities that they can use to create relevance for any topic imaginable.

Educational technology is now involving parents in ways that were never possible before. For starters, now a lot of schools post grades online, which parents can check at any point. This allows parents to stay up to date with how their children are doing in school. New apps, games, and toys are now available for parents to purchase that keep their children both entertained, but also learning important mental skills. Also, before if a student would come home with an algebra assignment and the parents didn't know how to do it, the parents would either try to fumble through the textbook trying to understand it themselves, or just say they don't know how to do it and not help. With the emergence of online tutorial videos and apps, however, parents and their children can sit down and watch/do these things together so that they can both learn and try to understand the concept.

Educational technology has also been a huge help to administrators, as new information of teaching strategies, educational studies, and new technology is right at their fingertips. No longer do they have to feel like they are lagging behind other schools, because most schools will have the same types of opportunities through technology.

As you can obviously tell, I am a huge proponent of educational technology. I believe it is where our educational system is headed, and those who embrace it will be ahead of the game. However, I am not naive to the point where I don't see some flaws with technology in the classroom. I think finding the right balance is the most important facet of implementing technology in the classroom. That being said, I don't feel that the fear of something not working perfectly right away should stop you from trying it. There will be some bumps along the way, but I believe in the end that educational technology in the classroom and at home is necessary to level the playing field for all parties involved in education.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Flexibility and Humility

All semester in the Math Technology class I have been telling students that the most important quality to have as a teacher is to be flexible.  This is probably even more important with all of the latest technology.  We all know that technology doesn’t always work so you need to be flexible and handle a hiccup in your plan well.  Of course, this means that you should probably always have a back-up plan.
As I am approaching the end of my 20th year of teaching, another quality that I think is very important to have is humility.  I am pretty certain that I didn’t always have a lot of that in my early years of teaching, and I don’t think that I was a very good teacher then.  While it is essential to be the content expert in your classroom, you should not take that as a ticket to be arrogant.  There is a difference between confidence and arrogance.  Think back to any teachers that you had that you disliked; do they have anything in common?  Were they arrogant? 
Here are 10 signs of arrogance, .  Read this closely and you will see that several of them are things that a teacher should never do: 
2.  Avoid eye contact.  As a teacher, eye contact is a must to make connections with your students and to determine if students understand the material.
4.  Use condescending phrases and put-downs.  Never put down your students as then they will no longer participate in class.  Participation is the key to student engagement.
6.  Interrupt conversations...frequently.  Never interrupt a student who is offering an idea on how to solve a problem.  Be courteous to everyone even if they are incorrect.  You can politely tell them they are wrong, such as, “that is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it will work.”
7.  Have an answer for everything.  Class should be more about questions than answers.  How will students learn if you don’t let them find their own answers?
10.  Blame someone else.  If you make a mistake, own it.  Students will have more respect for you if you can admit that you are wrong.  And trust me, you will be wrong!
I am truly enjoying teaching the Math Technology course this semester.  I think that both flexibility (I don’t have the semester outlined) and humility ( I admit when I don’t know something) have played a role in my enjoyment of the course. 
My last bit of advice to a teacher is to plan to learn from your students—they have taught me more this semester than I have taught them.  This is yet another reason that I enjoy the class.