Monthly Archives: May 2014

That’s a Very Good Question, Marvin

The teacher education program at the university where I teach has recently made the decision to require elementary education students to bring an iPad to the first day of class in August. Since January, our faculty has participated in intense professional development to prepare for this initiative. An Apple trainer has worked with us for six days, teaching us how to use both the MacBookAir and iPadAir to create and consume content. We have held weekly iPad user groups, participated in our own virtual learning community, using Edmodo, and practiced creating instructional elements (e.g., screencasts, podcasts, multimedia Keynote presentations). This summer we will host a Pedagogy Day, learning from each other ways to manage in-class activities within the university classroom setting. Some folks will participate in a book study of Magana & Marzono’s “Enhancing the Art and Science of Teaching with Technology.” Over the summer, 18 faculty members are each creating a project to be used in a course this fall. Some are designing ibooks, others are creating a repository of professional articles in lieu of using a textbook.

We have investigated and attempted to sort out:

  • issues with etextbooks and legal issues with the campus bookstore
  • wireless access on campus
  • designs for future classrooms
  • funding sources for student iPad purchase
  • quality apps for teaching and learning
  • tutorial modules for assisting learners new to the iPad
  • accessibility issues for students with special learning needs
  • effective ways to communicate the initiative to students, parents, colleagues on campus, community colleges, public school partners, and the general public.

The project started with 20 faculty members and this summer will grow to 34 faculty plus a few more from our community college partners. Collaboration has been at an unprecedented level, including faculty from elementary education, special education, instructional design and technology, science, music, art, and math education. The opportunities for professional growth and development have been extensive and of high quality. Some faculty began in January with literally no experience with an iPad or MacBook, while others knew how to use these devices extensively. An atmosphere of supporting each other as learners has been cultivated, as we shared in one another’s success at the simple things – discovering how to airdrop a document or import a photo into a Keynote.

All of this training culminates with a single question, posed by one of our faculty. Marvin (I hope he doesn’t mind me using his name) asked a simple, yet crucial question: “I am working to convert my PowerPoints to Keynote so they can be viewed on the iPad. Is this what I should be doing?” (paraphrased)

I believe technology should help both teachers and students do things more effectively and/or more efficiently. If these two conditions are not met, then we might as well all stick with paper and pencil (and PowerPoint), which have served us as very fine learning tools for many years. So when I am making decisions about how to best use my “technology” time when planning and teaching, I am mentally weighing the implications of my choices. Personally, I would not convert my presentations because these can still be viewed by my students on their iPads. Apps like CloudOn and others let students convert PowerPoints to be viewed on the iPad. I want to put my efforts into designing ways to enhance the learning of my students. My goal is to have my students use their iPads for at least one meaningful activity during each class session. By meaningful, I mean beyond accessing an etextbook or looking up a fact online.

The iPad is highly engaging and motivating for students. I want to capitalize on this with my teaching by crafting ways for students to become more actively engaged in my college class, thus (hopefully) increasing their learning. To do this takes on-going learning on my part – learning new ways to use the technology, learning about new apps, learning about effective pedagogical choices I can make to create class sessions that promote deeper learning.

This is a continual journey. Fellow faculty members, thank you so much for signing up for this mission. Your enthusiasm and willingness to learn has been contagious and appreciated.

Posted in Curriculum, Language Arts Methods, Teaching, Technology | Leave a comment

How do you keep up with new children’s literature?

Last week, I concluded my children’s literature course. Over the semester, the teachers in the course read, analyzed, and wrote about lots of children’s books. In fact, they wrote about these books on individual blogs so they could share their thoughts with each other and the world. Most of the teachers found that writing their responses on a blog promoted more in depth thought and investigation of the books they were reading because the medium encourages inquiry and sharing.

On this last day of class, the biggest question the teachers had was: “How do you keep up with all of the new books coming out all of the time?” Ironically, the answer is blogs. I follow lots of blogs by teachers, librarians, and publishers in what is affectionately called the “kidlitosphere.” The following is a list of 10 blogs to get you started.

Ten blogs to follow

  1. 100 Scope Notes: Children’s book reviews written by Travis Jonkers, an elementary library in Michigan.
  2. De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children: Written by several collaborators, De Colores reviews and critiques children’s and young adult books about Raza peoples throughout the Diaspora.
  3. A Fuse #8 Production: Children’s book reviews and news, written by Betsy Bird, a New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist.
  4. Horn Book Magazine: App and e-book reviews from the experts at Horn Book Magazine.
  5. The Open Book: This is the blog of Lee and Low books, a publisher of multicultural children’s books.
  6. The Nerdy Book Club: The name says it all! Four nerdy educators review children’s books and write about children’s book news with guest posts by authors and illustrators.
  7. No Flying, No Tights: Written by several librarians and graphic novel enthusiasts, this blog reviews graphic novels and comics for children and teens.
  8. Nonfiction Detectives: Cathy Potter and Louise Capizzo, two librarians, review children’s nonfiction books.
  9. Sylvia Vardell: The blog of professor and poetry expert Sylvia Vardell.

3.       Disability in Kidlit: Reviews, guest posts, and discussions about the portrayal of disabilities in middle grade and young adult fiction.

RSS feeds

The amount of information available through all of the different online media can be overwhelming. In fact, visiting all of these blogs on a daily basis is impossible. An RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader can help by aggregating multiple sources of information. RSS readers use RSS feeds to collect new posts, articles and updates from websites and deliver this information to the RSS reader. In this way, you can quickly skim through and read the information of interest when you have time. Examples of RSS readers include Netvibes, Feedly, and Newsblur. As you come across new blogs you find informative, you can easily add them to your RSS reader.


Happy reading!

Posted in Curriculum, How-To, Language Arts, Literacy, Teaching, Technology | Leave a comment

MOOCs – What’s All the Buzz?

ID-10080995Until recently, I had heard of the term MOOC, or massive open online course, but was not sure what it meant. Understanding it to be a free course that anyone could sign up to take, I could not fathom why someone might want to do this or why an instructor might want to teach such a course. To say I was uninformed was an understatement! That all changed a few weeks ago when I signed up to take an MOOC about blended learning. I have been teaching online courses this past year, and I thought, over time, I had learned a few things about creating a positive online course experience. However, my experience of returning to the role of student in an online course setting has been enlightening and will definitely impact my own teaching.

My MOOC experience occurred in Canvas, an online learning management system (LMS). This was a double bonus for me, as my university is leaving our current LMS and moving to Canvas this coming summer. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to experience Canvas first from the student perspective, which is now helping me greatly from an instructor standpoint. Since the platform was new to me, my “student” experience upon entering that online space for learning was enlightening. My challenges included locating the starting point for the course, figuring out how to access the videos, working through the steps of posting a comment on the discussion board, and sending a message to my instructor. Individually none of these tasks were daunting, but together they made my first few encounters in the course clunky and time-consuming.

The instructors in Blended Learning Toolkit, my MOOC, did a fabulous job of making me feel welcome before the class started and also once the weekly modules were underway. By the second week there were over 2,500 students in the course. The instructors thoughtfully planned the course for varying learning needs and levels of commitment. While this course was not offered for credit (many MOOCs provide an option for college credit), students could complete a required series of activities to earn a certificate of completion that is linked to specific outcomes and criteria. Others who wanted a less rigorous option could participate in as many or as few of the course activities as desired. These activities included a weekly one-hour webinar (recorded for later viewing), threaded discussions, weekly online course readings, and activities for putting new learning into practice. The instructors frequently reminded students that their level of participation was their choice, and missing a discussion or activity did not reflect on their abilities as a student. I appreciated this release of guilt for not completing all of the activities as my student role definitely could conflict with my role as a busy professor.

My interest in taking the MOOC stemmed from a desire to know more about MOOCs and also an interest in learning about the topic, blended learning. Being in the student seat served as a great reminder of the many issues my own students face with time management and interfacing with course materials and activities. I especially appreciated the opportunity to be a part of a learning community sharing an interest in a topic. Without the pressures of grades, paying tuition, and meeting an instructor’s expectations, I could learn for the pure joy of learning.

Posted in Books, Curriculum, How-To, Teaching, Technology | Leave a comment