Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does Technology Work?

Politicians often decide that funding in education needs to be cut.  We are all dealing with low budgets, no money for staff development and, the most common area to cut, no money for technology.  In my school, that means that as my SmartBoard projector starts to wear out (and it is) it will not be repaired or replaced.  As the laptops reach their 10 year mark, and stop being effective, they will not be replaced.  So the technology will slowly, but surely, leave my classroom.  

So I started wondering if it really mattered.  Maybe we can do without.  After all, the technology projects we do are mostly started by me.  We have some great lessons that have nothing to do with technology.  What does it really matter?  And then I get my proof that technology is important to my students and their learning.  Here are just a few examples of how.

1. I am giving a standard test on the digestive system on Thursday.  It is the first test I am giving to my class where they actually have to study ideas and memorize body parts and definitions.  In other words, they have to study.  Nervous and unsure, they asked for help.  I asked what they wanted.  They said they wanted me to create a Google doc with questions for them to answer.  I said no but they could.  So one child created the doc, went around and invited everyone in and made plans for a time to get together tonight.  I went in about an hour ago.  The doc was full of questions and answers, over 10 children were in studying, and the chat room was buzzing with talk of the digestive system.  Wow!

2. I got an email today from a student I had two years ago.  She has joined the Science Olympiads and needs to build a project.  She asked me for some help with finding sites that will give her ideas.  She said she had already watched some videos to help her understand her topic better and now needed to work on a project.  Amazing!

3.  I worked on mean (averages) in class this week.  Last night I got an email from a student saying she really didn't understand it and could I help her.  I typed up a quick definition, found a video link and a game for her to play and sent it off.  Today she told me those links really helped.  

4. My students have decided that they need to get on Edmodo at night and do homework together.  They wanted to know if this was cheating.  LOL Little do they know that I love the idea and love that they came up with it.  "If it will help you," I said, "go right ahead."  I love checking in on their conversations and adding some ideas of my own.

These examples are just from last week and this week.  And these are 4th graders - 9 year olds.  Imagine how important technology will be to them in 5 years.  They are already thinking about how technology can support their learning.  Their world will never be the same.

What examples do you have to show how technology really supports your students?

Image: 'T i e d o k a+s

Image: 'Shanghai January 2010

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Monday, December 19, 2011

My Classroom Philosophy

As we near the end of 2011, I am starting to get reflective about my life, my teaching, my students.  What has been good? What needs to change?  

In thinking about my teaching, I can't help but reconfirm my basic philosophy, since this affects everything I do in the classroom.  I have two main thoughts.

1. Every child in my classroom will be comfortable, supported, successful, and happy.
Sounds simple enough.  But sometimes it is exceedingly difficult. 

Comfortable I can handle.  There is a no tolerance policy in my school for bullying but I take it one step further in my classroom.  Mistakes are accepted, encouraged, recognized, named.  They are not laughed at EVER.  It usually only takes one time, one child laughing for me to stop this behavior.  But more than stopping it, I encourage my students to discuss their mistakes.  "Why did you get that math problem wrong?"  "What hurdles did you face while reading that book?"  By asking these questions, and others like them, often, I help my students understand that we are all struggling to learn and we can do this together. 

And this leads right into support. We have these discussions about struggles openly.  Johnny is working on self-control.  We will all help him by reminding him gently, kindly, as friends, to stop tapping his pencil.  Sally is working on memorizing her addition facts, while everyone else is up to multiplication?  We will kindly ask her math fact questions throughout the day and celebrate when she finally gets it. Katy has been working on remembering to use reading strategies to help her understand better?  Steve will work with her, since this is also his struggle.  Support from others helps the students overcome their embarrassment.  And it helps them work harder.

Successful - hmmmm.  This one is a bit more difficult.  We tend to think of success in terms of test scores and reading levels.  But, I have come to realize that, sometimes, children first need to be available to learn before we can begin to teach them.  Behaviorally and emotionally, children have to want to continue to learn.  And so often, our students are beaten down before they ever get to us.  I make it a point, each year, to welcome each child into the room.  I will ignore the comments from other teachers about how difficult Billy is to handle, how many times he spent with the principal, how often the parents have to be called, how lazy he is, how rude he is, how unmotivated he is.  This is a new year and I will pretend I have never heard any of it. 

Expectations mean a lot.  I often find that, when I expect these students to be "good," they are.  When I expect them to be kind, and point out kindnesses in themselves and others, they work harder to be kind.  I help them make friends, change attitudes, and feel more comfortable.  And none of that happens overnight.  So often, these children are only successful in finally being available to learn.  And then the year is over and test scores are still low and reading level is still poor and I feel like a failure.  Until I remind myself that this child was not even a student in September.  Going into the next grade, maybe he can carry some of those lessons with him and be a student from the very first day of school.

And so I move on to happy.  I do expect my students to be happy.  Happy does not mean complacent.  It means challenged and still having fun.  It means playing games, laughing, listening to music, getting comfortable, making choices and working hard.  It means struggling with something and finally succeeding.  It means celebrating accomplishments with each other.  It means having friends and feeling at home.  It means wanting to come to school each day and not wanting to leave.  This is a tall order.  Especially when children come from homes that don't make them so happy.  

Each morning I stand outside my room and shake hands with each child, saying hello, asking about their weekend or evening, giving a compliment, asking questions.  Sometimes they tell me sad stories about their evenings and I give them hugs.  Sometimes they tell me about new babies, or weddings, or family visiting.  And we laugh together.  Sometimes I hear about awards they've won, games they've played, and movies they've seen.  We connect.  And then, they can walk into the room, knowing that I care, that their classmates care, and they've let go of the outside world for a little while.

Sounds simple.  It takes so little time but it means so much.  It's a great way to start each day.  And it really does set them up for learning.  And, so many children like it that, as children walk past my room to go to their own classrooms, they stop for a handshake and a hello. 

And so we come to number 2.

2. I will do whatever is necessary to accomplish my first idea.

I will stop a lesson to address a hurt, an insult, a success, an important question.  I will have a class meeting if there is an issue we all need to address.  I will learn new tools to keep them motivated and excited about learning.  I will revamp, rewrite, rework units to make them more challenging and more fun.  I will work hard each night, each morning, each weekend, each vacation to insure that I meet my goals.  It's important.  It's a child's life.

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Image: 'Brothers

Image: 'Attitude: Honest