RIP3 Reflection

For my final project, I conducted a live study of the education app, Kahoot, which is a web-based quiz app that allows students to use their cell phones or other devices to answer questions. The students can be grouped in teams or compete separately. I was aware that the majority of my fellow classmates knew about the Kahoot software but had probably not had much opportunity to test it in the classroom themselves or see how a current classroom teacher would actually use it. I also decided that it would be beneficial for my classmates to see how I “make” or rather choose the quizzes that I use because it has been a huge help and time-saver for me to use existing quizzes rather than make my own. I was told in my undergrad experience that I shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel” but sometimes you get so caught up in trying to be and do all the things as a teacher that you forget that you can accept help. It’s not cheating and doesn’t make you a bad teacher to use things that other educators have already made. It can actually help your students because it frees up more time for you to teach and provide quality feedback instead of making something that already exists and has free use. Honestly, I wouldn’t use the app as frequently, or at all, if I had to make every quiz from scratch which is why I’ve stayed away from Socrative.

I’ve used the tool in all of my classes prior to this live study. I took video of both of my subjects, Geometry and Precalculus, using the app to showcase the differences in participation at different levels (including maturity levels which would have been very clear had the sound worked :)). My Precalculus classes need little coaxing to participate and, in general, use their time wisely and respectfully. Using the app with them allows me a good window into their progression as a whole group and lets me know when I can move on from a certain topic. My Geometry classes are a little harder to rally. They enjoy playing games but not studying so Kahoot has offered me a great opportunity to review and reteach material that I can’t get them to focus on via traditional methods. So, basically, I use Kahoot for review for both classes but the type of review required is different. I thought this subtle difference would be good to show the classroom full of prospective teachers because it lets them know that the same tool can be used in all types of classes as long as they make the proper modifications.

Being required to use the Kahoot app formally made me realize how important the little tricks and modifications that I’ve made through my experience are to my successful use of the tool. When I first started using the app, I wasn’t exactly sure what my end goal was for the software. It was only through trial and error that I discovered how useful it could be and modify it to fit my particular teaching style. The same can be said about my overall teaching. I’ve developed so many skills through my teaching experience that I could not have learned in any TED class.

I want to remind my classmates and future teachers to not get discouraged when something they try doesn’t work out the way it was intended to. A lesson plan may work perfectly for one group of students but go terribly wrong for another even if they are exactly the same level. If you and your lessons are adaptable, you will be an above-average teacher. I’m reminded that you can’t be afraid of failure and that some of the best lessons you teach are also the messiest. Maybe that’s just something Ms. Frizzle said on the Magic School Bus but I think she’s a wise woman, so I’ll leave it at that.

One of the articles that we read this semester talked about how a lot of required teacher education classes don’t necessarily prepare someone for the classroom and I have to agree. During my undergrad experience I learned a lot of theory, acronyms, names of fancy education celebrities (Piaget, I’m looking at you), and jargon that made it easier for me to fit in with my new colleagues but didn’t offer much in the way of practical knowledge like how to make and grade assessments, how to choose homework assignments, how to take attendance, how to start a school year, etc… These are things that I learned from experience and support from my fellow teachers. Trust your coworkers, they are truly your greatest asset when you are starting out.

I’ve thought about why our college classes don’t tend to prepare us for the practical aspects of the job and I used to be pretty bitter about it but I think I’ve realized why they are structured that way. I think, and hope, that our professors are giving us the space to be creative and to figure out what works for us. We’re constantly being reminded to differentiate and that every student has their own needs and those things are true of teachers as well. We have an idea, a dream of what our classroom is going to be like and how could a professor take away your vision before you’ve been given a chance? Sure, you’ll probably (definitely) mess up occasionally (a lot) but that’s your process. Education is always growing and changing as quickly as technology itself. I’ve heard that someone studying to become an engineer will take classes that become outdated before they will even graduate. With the constant education reform, rote teaching of a standardized instruction style would be outdated and irrelevant before we even step into the classroom. Now that I’m outside of the undergraduate experience, I can see it’s value and how not “having all the answers” allowed me to find my own.

These lessons I’ve learned and continuously have to relearn keep me moving forward. There are days for all of us when we think about doing something else but just step back for a moment and admire what you’ve done and what you’re going to do, even if it doesn’t seem like much, because this is a job that you can be proud of.

Technology and Its Place in Education

At first, I was wondering why we were required to read an article from 1999 about technology. I expected the article to feel dated, especially since it kept referencing legislation from two Presidents ago (a magical time before the No Child Left Behind Act) but this was not the case. I found the Selfe article to still be quite relevant to the current educational climate and the majority of its content could have been written today. I strongly agree with the assertion that technology literacy is as important to overall education as the traditional reading, writing, and arithmetic. Even then, the statistic that at least 70% of careers that require of college degree also require the use of a computer must still be true. Though I don’t like to think of school as simply an employee factory, it is still our job as educators to prepare our students for the contemporary job market so they have the best possible chance for success. Nothing can take the place of art appreciation and the humanities but neglecting to demonstrate the uses and misuses of technology severely deprives them of essential skills.

The article also stated that almost 90% of educators, students, and parents believed computers to be one of the most important, if not most the important, tools that a student has available to them. Even though the majority of educators believe this to be true, it’s still difficult for some teachers to get behind their own opinion in any significant way. I’ve seen the truth in the author’s belief that many humanists find technology to be either boring or frightening and have seen many of my peers shy away from technology integration in meaningful ways in their own classroom. They believe that they use the computer assigned to them enough if they use it to simply answer emails and type up their worksheets.

I can’t deny that I have found myself doing this too. As a math teacher, one of the most seemingly technologically advanced subjects, I tend to neglect technology because it often impedes real understanding of the concepts in the early stages of instruction. For example, when teaching my Precalculus students about polynomial functions I refrain from giving them a graphing calculator until after I’ve taught them how to do everything by hand. If they are given this piece of technology too early, they tend to use it as a crutch and don’t truly comprehend why they are getting the answers they compute and are unable to justify and test what they actually find. Once they know what the reasonable and appropriate answers are, the graphing calculator becomes an incredibly valuable tool to test, confirm, and help them develop hypothesis when they would otherwise be stuck on a crucial step of a problem. I also constantly remind them that calculators are “stupid” (for lack of a better word) and can only do exactly what you tell them to do. A simple misplaced comma can ruin an entire equation. If they use a calculator from the beginning, they tend to trust whatever data comes out and have no real ability to determine whether or not that data is correct. Obviously, I have that “general distrust of machines” that Selfe was talking about.

Since I’m on the topic of graphing calculators, I’d like to share another story about the difficulties that can arise from adopting technology too early in instruction. I have an incredibly bright and determined student that I will call Millie. Millie is a year ahead in her math instruction being in Geometry as a freshman instead of as a sophomore. She cares a lot about her grades and is the student that comes in most before and after school for help. Millie spent her 8th grade year in an exchange program in a very affluent school in Philadelphia where she took Honors Algebra 1. Algebra 1 is the class where you learn how to solve equations and is an incredibly vital math class, the most important in my opinion. Now Millie did exceptionally well in her Algebra class which she told me was unusual for her since she tends to excel more in English and Social Studies.

The reason she did so well, in case you can’t already guess, is because they taught her how to do everything by punching it into a graphing calculator instead of doing it by hand. Millie says they never taught her why the answers work and that she just memorized how to punch the equations into the calculator. She has no real comprehension of why she gets the answers she does and can’t do a thing without the use of her calculator. She keeps getting incredibly and understandably frustrated when she can’t do the problems but can’t seem to let go of the technology. Simple solving equations like 3x+2=180 are extremely difficult for her but are easy for even my lowest students because they were taught the proper steps. Millie is able to derive the correct answer, x=89, but has no idea why that answer is correct. She will be at a serious disadvantage when it comes time for her to take the ACT because she won’t be able to use the technology that she has become so dependent on and I feel like her “advanced” school really did her a disservice. Her father and I have recommended that she repeat Algebra 1 to build those skills and I’ve offered her private instruction on the subject but she doesn’t want to “get behind” because she likes being ahead even if it is only technically.

Math is one of the subjects that requires a traditional pen and paper (or stylus and tablet) approach, at least in the beginning, with technology being integrated later on as a tool to hasten the process only when true comprehension of the “why” has been achieved. I do believe that some well-developed apps and computer based games and activities can and do help with process of learning but only if they are carefully chosen and implemented at the appropriate stages of instruction. The one-to-one push that most schools have chosen to implement can be great but only with proper training, support, and encouragement. I agree with Selfe that it is short-sighted and incorrect to say that students will not have access to technology when almost all of them carry a smartphone loaded with advanced calculating capabilities but if they don’t know how to use the technology and can’t comprehend it’s limitations we are setting them up for failure. It is my job as an educator to teach them appropriate, ethical, and responsible uses for technology lest they become entirely dependent on it.

 

TLDE Blog #3

I found the article How Teachers Learn and Develop to be the most relevant of the readings to my time as an educator. Though I’m still in the early years of my education practice having only been a practicing full-time educator for three years, I have experienced many of the transitions highlighted and found their thoughts to be entirely accurate. I wholeheartedly agree that to be a great, or even adequate, instructor one must be a life-long learner and have the capacity for growth and change. I believe that the success that I’ve had so far on my journey has been highly influenced by my adaptability and the support I’ve received along the way.

I wasn’t fully aware of all of the complexities of the job when I decided to change my major from Mathematics to Education but knew that it was going to an incredible challenge. Now that I’ve had time to process and invest myself into the profession, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s taken a lot of experience, reflection, and disappointment to get me to this point. I went into the program with rose-colored glasses thinking that I was going to change my students’ lives just by showing up and though this hasn’t happened to the extent I had hoped (yet), I believe that I have made a difference and have had a positive influence on my students’ lives. I have not made it to this point alone.

My experience in the undergraduate teaching program at UNO did a lot to prepare me for the actual act of teaching. One aspect of the program that I found incredibly meaningful was the emphasis the program put on rejecting biases and developing a disposition suitable to the job. I went in thinking that I was very open-minded and was disappointed many times by my previously unrecognized prejudices. I’m thankful to my professors for their guidance and understanding through the unpleasant process of going through my personality inventory and discarding outdated and inaccurate long-held misconceptions about myself and my future students. Another component of the program that I found helpful was the actual classroom experience required before student teaching even started. I used to be incredibly shy and was so nervous my first few times in front of an actual class. Being able to go in for a short time and make a fool of myself while gaining the experience to feel comfortable at the front of a room was invaluable and made my student teaching much easier. By the time I reached the student teaching part of my program I felt far more at ease though I knew I had a VERY long way to go. That being said, student teaching was by far the hardest part of my undergraduate experience and almost made me rethink my choice to become an educator. I was put under a lot of scrutiny and second guessed myself the entire time which was frustrating and disheartening but it without a doubt made me better.

After my student teaching, I had the great fortune of being invited to participate in the CADRE program. The CADRE program put enormous emphasis on self-reflection and we were required to make a +/Δ inventory of our progress every week. Δ, if you are unaware, is the mathematical symbol for change. The seemingly trivial choice to use the delta symbol instead of the traditional – was one of the best examples I’ve seen about word choice and its influence on attitude. The way a teacher presents a concept can have a huge influence on student perception and how they react to your methods. The tiniest tweak, like changing a negatively connoted word like minus to a positively connoted word like change, encouraged me rather than discouraged me to really step back and do some serious self-reflection even though I knew that they meant basically the same thing. I think about this lesson every time I have to redirect a student or tell them that they are “wrong”. I’m always very careful about my word choices and how they could positively or negatively impact my students. Teachers really do create the lens in which students see themselves in relation to the content and themselves.

This attitude that I’ve derived from reflection has helped me to foster an environment of curiosity in my classroom and encourage “mistakes” because that’s how I feel students learn the best. I teach a unit on logic and reasoning in my Geometry class that introduces the concept of a “counterexample”. We spend a lot of time figuring out what the wrong answer is and exploring the reasons why it’s false and continue this process throughout the year. I’ve found that the more we explore the inconsistencies and fallacies in mathematics, the easier it becomes to find the truth. This helps them get past the just “knowing what” stage to the “knowing why and how” stage. I’m constantly reminding them that it is far easier to prove something wrong than it is to prove something right and that many things are situational. My students love to prove what I say wrong and I’ve learned to love it when they correct me, so much so that I occasionally make purposeful mistakes. This allows me to model an appropriate response to being corrected. Almost no one likes to be wrong but this helps them remember that learning is a process and no one, not even the teacher, is right all the time.  Persistence is the key to success.

I was also required by the CADRE program to do a thesis project based on field research and use data-driven decision making techniques to improve my instruction. This forced me to take a hard look at how my students were progressing (or not progressing) as a result of my instruction. I was supported by experienced professionals the whole way and always had access to criticism (i.e. encouragement) when what I was doing was unsuccessful. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it hurts to work so hard on an activity for a class and realize that it is not working and throw the whole thing out but this is what teaching is about. Being adaptable and willing to admit when I’m wrong and having the wherewithal to change without being completely discouraged was the true capstone to my teaching education that I so desperately needed. I knew that I was good at mathematics and I understood different pedagogical theories and teaching strategies but I had to figure out the ones that worked for me. A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching does not benefit students or teachers.

I’ve also been blessed to have such a supportive staff and administration at my current school. Any time I have a problem that I can’t seem to find the solution to, I know I just have to ask for help and it immediately appears. I’m always offered thoughtful and sympathetic advice and never condemned for my inexperience. I’m often coached and encouraged which keeps me from getting too discouraged and giving up even when the challenges seem too much for me handle on my own because it reminds me that I’m not alone. I know that I’m part of a community that wants me to succeed and it makes me want to encourage my students to succeed even more. Scaffolding is an incredibly valuable method when I’m teaching my own students and I know this because of my own experiences.

I agree with the article on so many levels that teachers develop in fixed stages because I’ve seen it in myself. Thinking about how much I’ve improved and grown throughout the years is enlightening and makes me appreciate the learning process. Sometimes I think back to my first experiences and am embarrassed by how little I knew even though I, in theory, had all of the answers. I could pass a written exam with little trouble but the actual practice of teaching took me years to even get to a level that I now consider proficient.  Growth is uneasy, messy, and sometimes gross but it can be a truly beautiful process with the right attitude.

Old vs. New

TLDE Blog #2

There is a new learning culture developing alongside technological innovations. New resources can offer multiple representations of concepts and materials while offering more support systems within a discipline. These seem like good things and, for the most part, are but I think that the sheer volume of choice can be overwhelming and, paradoxically, stifling. I’m reminded of a TED Talk by Barry Schwartz called the “Paradox of Choice” which discussed the misconception that people want unlimited choices. The talk basically said that in any given situation when you have more than 2-4 choices, your brain becomes too inundated with information to make any truly informed selection. Basically, people think they want choice but only from a previously narrowed down selection of options. This doesn’t mean that different tools and technological resources should not be used in education but it does mean that they should be carefully chosen.

I’ve seen educators try to use too many digital tools because they want to be perceived as tech savvy, contemporary teachers but these tools provide little substantial support and usually only succeed in offering one more way for students to misstep. Anyone trying to incorporate technology into their classroom needs to be extremely conscious of the cultural climate of the school and community and how the new technology will potentially benefit/hinder the class. Not all technology works in a given situation and this should be carefully considered. Students think they want their classrooms to be online but it’s not always feasible in less affluent districts. Even so, when an educator does the research and finds a tool that may engage their students and help them succeed, it’s worth a try.

One experience I’ve had with technology introduction was during a practicum experience at Bellevue East High School. I was exposed to a “flipped classroom” that worked beautifully. The teacher was well-trained in the technology, supported by her district, and only used one application to distribute her lectures to students which offered consistency. Bellevue East is a one-to-one school so the teacher could be certain that the students had access to technology and the lectures could be downloaded at school in case the student did not have internet access at home. The in-class component of the class was all very structured and stable with the students participating in essentially the same activities every day. In this circumstance, the introduction of technology enhanced the learning taking place and offered students more quality instruction.

I teach in the Omaha Public Schools district and have a very different situation than the Bellevue instructor even though we are only geographically separated by a few miles. Many of my students do not have access to a computer and I cannot morally assign them homework where technology is a necessary component. Any time I require the use of a website, application, or even a typed paper, it is my responsibility to provide them with computer lab time which means I have to physically change the location of my classroom (not to mention find a time when the lab is open which usually needs to be done weeks in advance) sometimes removing the structure necessary to maintain an academic environment. My underprivileged students often require an almost rigid consistency to feel safe enough to learn and constantly changing up the class structure by introducing new technologies increases their anxiety about school.

Despite the restrictions I must impose on technology integration in my own classroom, I still do find it useful in some aspects of instruction. I’ve created a Microsoft Docs page that I can upload my note slides and assignments to for students that are absent though not all students have access to this. I show videos of certain concepts during instruction to offer multiple representations. I often play a quiz game called Kahoot! in my classroom but instead of one-to-one, I rely on students to share their own personal devices since I am unable to offer them devices to use. I create online accounts through the textbook company for students with frequent absences due to illness or hospitalization that allows them access to tutors and online assignments but this solution only works if I confirm with a guardian that they will have access to a computer, which isn’t always possible.

As for Twitter, I’m very annoyed with the amount of time my university classes have spent suggesting I use Twitter in my classroom. I get it, Twitter is a way to share a quick idea but I teach math. I’m not going to do problems on Twitter, I am not going to tweet out my assignments, I’m not going to require my math students to complete problems together on Twitter when there are applications that are far better suited for those activities. I guess I could tweet out links to webpages but why wouldn’t I just upload those to my site? I’m not going to use Twitter just of the sake of using Twitter. My students use Twitter to socialize and talk about events, they do not use it for education purposes and I don’t see the point in trying to make them. I have other tools and I can’t realistically assign homework using web applications to all of my students. If I taught English, I might have a different opinion.

Teenagers are digital natives and are very adaptable in terms of technology but that doesn’t mean that everything they do has to have a technological component. I believe that my job as an urban teacher is only about 40% content instruction and the rest of the time is spent teaching behaviors, building relationships, helping them through personal crisis, etc… Though online environments are excellent for self-reflection and building a carefully cultivated online personality, there is nothing that can replace face-to-face interactions with adults and peers. I’m not creating robots, I’m helping my students become good people with the social skills necessary for success in the future. I do not need to teach them how to use the internet, they already know how to do that. I need to teach them what to do outside of the screen where they can’t backspace when they say something wrong.

 

 

 

Appropriate Media

TLDE Article Response #1

I am a believer that within the normal set of the population (discounting our limited pool of genius engineers, artists, inventors, etc…) there are no truly new or novel ideas. Even most technological advancements are just manipulated amalgamations of previous technology. The best that the average member of society can hope for is a new way to synthesize the ideas posited by others into something that resembles an original thought; which may be why there are so many “new” superhero movies in theaters. I do believe that most of these people have good intentions and may not even be aware of the fact that they are borrowing and manipulating previously stated concepts into works that suit their particular need. The article, Discussion: The Statistical Probability of Accidental Plagiarism by Alise, about “accidental” plagiarism suggests some interesting justification for unintentional idea-appropriation.  The brain is a truly amazing machine and remembers much more than we can intentionally recall so it’s no surprise that occasionally something a person’s read, seen, or heard, even decades prior, can pop back up following a related prompt with the person truly believing that they came up with the idea, joke, story, song, etc…

There seems to be a lot of moral ambiguity surrounding accidental plagiarism and a fair amount of embarrassment when one realizes what they have done. I know many of us have been in the situation where you tell a story as if it happened to you because you really thought it did but then some elder relative reminds you that, no, this did not happen to you, it happened to your brother/sister/cousin. Our brain’s memory of how things actually happened is unreliable but the brain is a great resource for cataloging related information and creating new connections between seemingly unrelated data. Is accidentally pirating an idea actually a bad thing? Depending on the scale and intended purpose, I don’t think so. If the idea’s originator and/or borrower has not been harmed, denigrated, or suffered a loss as a result of refurbishing the idea then what’s the real problem? Intentional plagiarism by a student on an academic paper causes harm to the student by robbing them of the intelligence, resilience, and experience they would have gained by writing and editing their own ideas and, obviously, may harm or annoy a cognizant creator. My opinion is not meant to justify hiring a term-paper writing service or using your older sibling’s history paper when explicitly asked to create your own but some situations are appropriate for idea manipulation and use.

I’ve been told over and over again during my undergraduate and graduate education study that I shouldn’t “reinvent the wheel”, meaning that I shouldn’t waste precious and scarce time creating lessons or activities that already exist. The teaching profession requires the juggling of far too many things to realistically invent original content, activities, and lesson plans for every class every day and still have the energy and motivation to actually teach. A true professional knows their limits and what will benefit their students the most. Does a student benefit more from a burnt-out educator with perfect PowerPoint slides and meticulously organized and cataloged flash cards or an energetic, passionate educator with the occasional typo and borrowed image? Personally, I care much more about the process and implementation of a concept or idea than the idea’s origin.

As a math teacher, I’m certain that my students are well aware that I did not invent the formulas and mathematical concepts that we cover in class. The content has existed and will exist long outside my own timeline; my only hope being to competently explain them in a way that best fits my students that exist right now. According to Prensky in the article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, my students speak a language different than traditional educational approaches speak to. They are constantly coding between colloquial and tech talk to traditional “school” language. If the incorporation of modern technology can help facilitate this transition and provide multiple representations of the material in a way my students can understand and adapt with, I’m in.

I use the website Kahoot.it to do review and checks for understanding. Kahoot is basically a quiz website where the students login using their personal cell phones and answer multiple questions in competition with their classmates. Students choose their own nickname to prevent anonymity concerns, can choose to work with a partner or whiteboard if they don’t have a device or it’s dead/out of data, and it approaches the content in a way that’s more accessible for many of my students than lecture. This also give me the opportunity to talk about beneficial uses for their devices and the resources that are literally at their fingertips. Students that I constantly have to remind to take their notes or work on their assignments suddenly become completely invested in and excited about the material. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Ok, but what about all of the extra time you spend creating these online quizzes?” I spend almost no time at all, the website allows you access to quizzes that other teachers have created (you have the option to keep your quizzes private when you create them) and I take abundant advantage of that. I just type in the topic that I want to check and search through the available pre-made quizzes; Kahoot even has an option to narrow your search to “quizzes created by teachers” by ticking a box. Sometimes these other teachers present the material and ask the questions in a different manner than I would but the students are able to quickly interpret the differences and adapt giving them a deeper understanding and, yet another, representation of the same material. This website is free, by the way.

Since I am not directly making money off of the ideas I use to teach more effectively this seems to fall within the, somewhat ambiguous, copyright guidelines that the NCTE’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education presented. It seems to me like the majority of those guidelines were created with educators in mind and you would be hard-pressed to find someone in our society that would condemn a teacher’s pertinent use of media in the classroom, even if that media is uncited. I also believe this kind of technology use is what was being encouraged in the article, What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge?, by Matthew J. Koehler and Punya Mishra of Michigan State University. For a teacher, content knowledge is necessary and the ability to teach without technology is valuable but truly knowing the students and their circumstances and then being able to meet them where they are is makes someone an exceptional teacher.