Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Choosing Tech Tools

Thanks to EdCampOmaha (see previous post), I am new to twitter. It is an incredible resource for professional learning, and I cannot believe how many new tools I have already discovered through talented teachers' tweets. As I spend time thinking of ways to use these tools in my own classroom I want to work efficiently, focusing on what will most impact student learning.


This article from The Tempered Radical offers suggestions I really like. Instead of focusing on tools, we should consider outcomes first. Decide which broad skills we believe students need, and then choose tools that help them develop those skills. This makes sense to me, and I'm curious what you think.

At this point, I prioritize technology most when it engages students in a learning community larger than the one we share in our classroom. I believe in infusing technology in my classes to prepare students to contribute to the global discussions that will guide our future. I want my students to see themselves as integral parts of our class, of course, but also as equally important voices in a much larger discussion. While we contribute to a class wiki shared within the school, we learn even more if we skype with other classes studying the same topic, or with experts on the material. It is great to create visual representations of what we learn to help ourselves, but it is exponentially better to share those and help others.

Sometimes the extra bells and whistles many tech tools offer help keep students' attention, but do they really expand learning? I'll be the first to admit I've had success creating game show reviews, and there is certainly a place for those things in the classroom. However, our time is limited and I don't want my primary focus when integrating technology to be on bright, shiny tools that do little more than encourage memorization.

Considering outcomes before choosing tech tools should help eliminate this issue. However, different learners will connect with different tools, and their outcomes will then vary in part because of the tool used. There are so many great tools out there, and so many reasons for using different types...

 What's your advice? How do you decide which tools to learn more about, and which to include in your classes? I am eager to use more of these incredible tools in my lessons, and would love any tips on how you choose the best ones.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

EdCamp Omaha

I attended my first "unconference" yesterday.

If you're unfamiliar with edcamps, this article from edutopia gives a great synopsis of what they're all about. 

"Something shifts when a group of motivated people get in the same room and direct their own experience: They share what’s working and what isn’t. They support each other. It’s both inspirational and incredibly practical. Anyone can ask for help and support – whether you’re looking for ideas for teaching the Civil War to middle schoolers, or resources to help make the case for allowing social media in the classroom." 

I admit, I was a little apprehensive going into this. As a new teacher, I was afraid I wouldn't have much to contribute. Fortunately, that wasn't the case at all. I joined twitter the night before edcamp, and cannot believe what an incredible tool it is for professional networking. I'm hooked already! Everyone in attendance was welcoming and witty, and I felt comfortable from the start. 

We broke into several sessions to discuss issues of interest to us, and I found myself offering insight from my (brief) experiences much more often than I would have imagined. I learned a great deal, especially about integrating technology into my lessons, and cannot wait to have my own classroom so I can start putting these excellent tools to use! If you're interested, I took notes on some of the sessions I attended. Our discussion on PLNs is viewable here, and our thoughts related to Sir Ken Robinson's argument for increasing creativity in the classroom is available here. Some fantastic teachers shared a list of their favorite tech tools here. There is a ton more information from edcampomaha on twitter and on the event's wiki.

I met some phenomenal new teachers who are currently in the graduate program I would LOVE to be a part of. We had lunch together and they gladly shared their experiences in the program with me. The only problem is that now I want to get going with it right away! This semester has been a true test of my patience. Subbing has its benefits, no doubt, but I am eager for my own classroom, my own students, and my own lessons.

If you attended edcampomaha, please share your thoughts on the day!