Friday, December 17, 2010

Say it Ain't So, Library Joe!

This morning, I read the following article the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website:

School librarians: Headed for the history books?

I hope not. I feel that our school library is a viable resource to teachers and students. True, it could be updated and more interactive technically, but I can say that about other aspects of our school - including my classroom, I suppose. Regardless, it's still a place the serves some important services to our students:

  • Information retrieval.
  • Structured Study.
  • Media Center.

Our library - we call it the IMC - has gone through some quick transformations in the past years, mostly to accommodate the technology infusion. We still have plenty of print media, so we need that person who has training and experience with how to wade through that mire of "old school learning" which we still value - and need.

When I ask students who are avid readers if they would ever consider an eReader, the answers vary. Some prefer the idea of having a book at the ready, reading when they can, not needed the versatility of the eReader. Others wish they had an eReader so that they could access more than one book at a sitting. The common thread is that none of them really think that books will ever go away. I think that's significant, considering that's an answer from digital natives. I don't think it's indicative of every student - and who knows if they'll be right. Kids who like to read still like the physical book.
Those of us who teach - well, those of us who have been doing this for a while - also know how important print media is, and we value those who are experts in categorizing, accessing, and interpreting all of those pages of information.

Let's keep our librarians, and let's encourage their continued training and practice of information technology . They are not just a "tradition" in our schools. They are a vital to the future of information science, and for our students' ability to navigate through the field of ever-increasing

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grade Smart Board?

Image credit: "Writing on a Smart Board." 02/22/2001; Jay Yoh
To paraphrase a good friend of mine, "I loves me my Smart Board." I do. I think it has a lot of potential, and I have been trying to tap some of those special features that make it so great. I have a ways to go, though, but I'm getting into the one that the school district so generously put in my classroom.

There are some in our school who don't use theirs at all, and it's not the folks that are just a few months or years away from retirement. Teachers who have been in the work force for ten years are shunning the dang things, and for what I feel are really unenlightened reasons:
  • It's too complicated.
  • I already have a data projector.
  • It never does what I want it to.
  • It's in my way.
  • I like my regular ol' white board just fine.
(One of these days, Alice - bang-ZOOM, to the moon!)

This worries me for many reasons, the main one being that there has been a great deal of money spent on the things - taxpayers know that we have installed these in our classrooms. They supported the decision. It's THEIR (and I supposed a little of our own) money that is hanging on the wall not getting used. The ones who don't like or use their Smart Boards defend their position with "well, nobody ever asked me if I wanted it in my classroom."

Segue here: the room really isn't ours. We get to use it, and the stuff that's in it. We don't pay rent for it, so we can't claim proprietary rights. We really don't get to say what goes into the classroom and what doesn't when it comes to infrastructure.

The other reasons really have to do with time and energy, which I'll be the first to say is at a premium in the life of the teacher. Yes, we have to devote some time to learning a new technology while something else (planning, grading, housekeeping, bill paying, etc) gets postponed. It's frustrating, but I feel it needs to be done.

Think of it this way: the ones we teach are digital natives. They don't know a time without mobile phones, wireless computing, digital media, online access, and so on. Doesn't it stand to reason that if we weenie out on learning something that they know and can work with, it limits their learning? Would we think about showing an old film in class only on a 16 mm projector because that's they way it was meant to be shown? How about creating handouts using a hand-crank ditto-master machines? (Mmmm ... smell the pretty purple words ...) Let's bust out the overhead projector and make a slide show out of hand-drawn transparencies? Or even better, create slides of our documents  using a camera and a copy stand, send the film off to the Kodak labs for processing, get them back in two weeks, and load up the carousel projector.

Or did those take a fair amount of time and energy to learn about those technologies too?

Any new technology takes time to learn and master. Take the time to do it now - it will pay off later. It paid off today for me. The copy machine in the workroom didn't process my MS Word file for copying, so I had to put the document on the Smart Board in my room. I was able to highlight the areas I wanted to emphasize, and edit the document right in front of the students. By that time, one of the lovely student office runners arrived with freshly printed material. No time wasted, and the material presented in a way familiar to the class. Winners all around.

Are you smarter than a smart board? Yes. Yes you are.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Dog Ate My Blog

No, really. That's why I didn't have a blog last week. I was sitting in my room, typing happily, and then I had to go answer the phone. I was away from my screen for only thirty seconds - I SWEAR - and when I came back, there was the dog, chomping away on the last bit of my blog. No lyin'. So that's what happened.

Hmmm ...

Yeah, I wouldn't buy that bag of crap either. It's just the symptom of something larger that I've been experiencing.

As an attempt to step-up my technology in the classroom (or 'teching-up" as we cried with fists thrust in the air last summer in the EIT class at UNI) I included some online writing options for my World Humanities class. I made this optional as not everyone in the class has access to technology, so therefore it was not mandatory for everyone. My only requirement was that if a student started out with this option, they needed to see it through to the end of the course.

We are on trimesters - the week before Thanksgiving is always scheduled for two days of finals for the Fall Trimester. It's a time when we all feel good about ending the first third of the school year, preparing to travel to family destinations for Thanksgiving, and just getting a break from one another. It's also that dreaded time of year when every single technology on the entire planet that students use to complete their final papers and projects just completely collapses into a molten heap of silicon and copper.

I know it wasn't in the papers - for some unexplained reason it never is. And strangely, it never affects my own phone, computer or printer. It also seems that this doesn't happen to anyone else outside of the school. But as sure as "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" airs on TV in November, the technological equivalent of the Titanic occurs the week before turkey day.

Unless of course students are using a convenient excuse to buys some time ... would they actually do that?

Let me make one thing clear: I don't think everyone who plays the "technological meltdown card" is doing so unscrupulously. Too many times I've gone to the printer/copier in my building to produce material for the day only to discover that - despite the many warning signs not to do it - someone has tried to photocopy a transparency and shut the machine down until the next service call can be made. I know it happens. I know it can't be helped sometimes. SOMETIMES.

I do my best to make sure that there are avenues for plans B, C, D and E to follow in case something technologically catastrophic occurs. The winner for this term was the kid who was convinced that he could do everything on his smart phone.  I told him that it was cool that he was trying, and I would work with him - but warned him to make sure that there was a back-up somewhere if his phone went down. Not to worry, he said. Never happens. And he was correct - until he needed to send an assignment and his service got cut off. He was certain he didn't know why, but an email to his parent confirmed what I thought was the case: he didn't keep his GPA up to the agreed level in exchange for smart phone service. The parents had it disconnected two weeks before finals to make sure he didn't have the distraction.

Honestly, I didn't see that one coming. I'm sure he didn't either, and because of this, he had to re-do (or perhaps start for real) his final assignment. The assignment was late, I had to make changes, and it was a pain for all.

New technologies and new approaches with those technologies change rapidly - and we learn quickly. The lesson here is to make sure teacher and student are ready for the unpredictable, and to make sure that there is a reasonable Plan B when Plan A goes down the toilet.

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