Category Archives: Technology in Schools

Making a difference

Working as a consultant, there are many aspects of my job. I travel across the country to big cities and tiny towns to facilitate professional development sessions with teachers. I conduct technology audits to help districts align their mission and vision with the tools that teachers and students have available. There are other times, as with any job, where I’m sitting at an airport late on a Friday evening or filling out a time sheet, that feel a little less grand, however necessary they may be.

Sometimes, though, you have those BIG moments…the ones that give you chills, remind you why you go into the office or board tiny planes for a living…the ones you know you will take home and share with your family at the dinner table that evening. I had one of those moments the other day that I know I will remember forever. I was in North Dakota, working with a group of early childhood teachers, helping them to create accounts on our online community. Some of them were extremely comfortable with the process, having joined numerous other Ning, Moodle, and other such sites before. Others needed a little more assistance. One older Native American woman, I noticed, didn’t seem to be typing anything. I went over to see if I could help.

As it turned out, she didn’t have an email address to enter into the registration form. She had never created an email account before. Finding the right person at her district who may have been able to give us her email account and password would have been too time-consuming, so we quickly created a Gmail account for her.  She turned to me, pointing to the new address she’d carefully written down. “So this is my email address?” she asked. “That’s your email address,” I confirmed. She laughed a big, hearty laugh. “I can give this to my grandkids! They can email me!”

Later that afternoon on the flight home, I thought about that woman and all the doors that had just opened up for her.  I pictured her sharing her email address with family members and friends and the excitement when she receives her first few responses. In a tiny, tiny, way, I made a difference in this person’s life. Moments like these are why I love what I do.

Come to think of it, I have a person I need to go email. ☺

Modernizing pedagogy

The combination of past classroom experiences and traditional university training conspire to keep many teachers behind the curve of new pedagogical techniques.  Another impediment often occurs as new teachers are assimilated into a school’s culture. They frequently find that many innovative techniques they do want to try rub against the grain of the schools establishment.

For instance, many students learn about parts of speech in the same way I did when I went to school in the 1970s and 1980s by doing worksheets like the one below.

Worksheet

While this worksheet works fine for students with strong verbal/linguistic learning abilities, it does not work as well for student with other learning styles such as visual learners. Many graphic organizers are available online to complement or replace this activity. However, there is something even better. Dynamic or interactive web applications can allow students to evaluate multiple language connections and differentiates the learning in terms of both style and level of proficiency. One such resource is Visuwords at www.visuwords.com. Visuwords™ uses Princeton University’s WordNet, an opensource database built by University students and language researchers. Combined with a visualization tool and user interface built from a combination of modern web technologies, Visuwords™ is available as a free resource to all patrons of the web.” It allows students to check their own understanding of the parts of speech, edify their own writing, and see how language is a web of infinitely connected concepts. As you can see below, I entered the word “sophistication” and found the verb “edify,” which I just used to describe how students can benefit from using visuword.  

Visuword

I think one answer to better instruction is to combine proven instructional strategies like nonlinguistic representation- graphic organizer with interactive technological tools. Now I have two questions for you:

  • What other modern tools can be combined with tried and true instructional strategies?
  • What can be done to speed up the adoption of these tools by today’s teachers?

Written by Matt Kuhn.

Paperless classrooms

A teacher at the John Carroll School in Maryland has eliminated all paper from his classroom. Supported by a 1:1 computing environment, Richard Wojewodzki uses blogs and wikis to take the place of paper. Beyond the obvious savings on paper and resources, paperless classrooms can explore the dynamic resources made possible by the technology behind “Web 2.0.” The idea has generated considerable interest in the media, at the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Technology in Education, and even the Australian Department of Education. The invention of the computer promised to lead us to a paperless society but has failed to deliver on that promise. . . until now, perhaps?