Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A vision for the future

I was just thinking about how I would use technology in my classroom if I had the funding to do what I want. These ideas would decrease paper use and save money in the long run. This is what I came up with:

1. A main server and thin clients (10) to use in the room. This would save money, energy, and time needed to maintain multiple stand-alone PC's. The thin clients also don't need the same processing power or memory of a stand-alone PC.
2. Making sure that the light sensors were set right to decrease energy usage.
3. Some kind of e-paper system - similar to an e-book reader, so that students could read the papers that I currently have to print or hand out. I would want one is that much cheaper than the Kindle or Sony's e-reader. For the price of those two e-readers, I could get every student a netbook. I'm thinking of a very basic device that could read pdf files.
4. Classroom response system, such as Turning Point, to decrease written answers and paper.
5. More use of cellphones and smartphones - as classroom response systems, e-readers, etc. I see a great benefit to these devices. They are small computers and could be used as a 1-to-1 initiative.
6. Web based or secured and locked pdf's for report cards for parents with computers and email.
7. Online grade book (like engrade) that all parents have access too that show every grade, attendance, and comments on each student.
8. More use of email and text messaging to communicate with students and parents. Most paper memo's get left behind or dropped on the floor.
9. eTextbooks instead of printed ones. These would save money and paper, and are more easily updated and replaced at a lower cost than printed texts.
10. More web-based applications for students and teachers.

I feel that we can decrease paper usage, which is a cost and environment saving initiative and extend learning out beyond the classroom by using the internet, email, etexts, and cell phones to our advantage. I see great potential in the new cellphones and smartphones that are out and coming out as educational tools. Students can use them as classroom response systems, research, e-readers, and to collaborate with other students. Just like any other tool, smartphone use would have to be monitored. Every student I have has a cell phone of some sort, so this is not a far-fetched idea.

Enough rambling and dreaming about this. Time to see what parts of it I can put into effect now.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Educational Technology saves the day (and money)

I teach AP Physics and needed to set up some labs for heat and thermodynamics. Unfortunately, we have no money left for supplies or equipment, and there is a problem with the gas to my room. Thank goodness for technology. I am lucky enough to have 8 computers in my classroom. I used them today for a heat and thermo lab. The students were sent to software we use here (Cyber-Ed Multimedia Science School) and a website (http://phet.colorado.edu/simulations/index.php?cat=Physics). The web site has some great simulations that include teacher notes and student activities. I feel that these simulations are more interactive than a traditional lab and really show the student the physics behind the topic. The students also seem to like these better than some of the "real" labs they do. Don't get me wrong, I still do traditional labs, but free online labs and simulations are very useful, especially in these tough economic times.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Yesterday, I spent the day using Vernier's Logger Pro software and digital probes and sensors. I was very impressed. Vernier not only has a great product line, but the support for teachers is tremendous. I was really impressed with the labs that they include with the equipment and the fact that they are more inquiry based than most labs.

I really liked the way the software and probes work seemlessly together and how it really makes the science come to life. I could use the Vernier devices for every unit in my Physics classes and I think the students would be more engaged, more excited and interested, and would learn much better than with traditional labs.

The equipment is obviously not cheap, but Vernier has some grants of their own and also has links to other grants and grant writing tips. There are also plenty of free resources for teachers, including more labs and ideas on how to use the devices in class. All-in-all, it is a great bargain.

My next step is to find funding to purchase the Physics sets for my classes and start letting the students have some fun.

Educational Technology

Educational Technology offers so many benefits for both teachers and students. We can not afford to disregard this. We must fund educational technology in our schools. Ed Tech can help students learn content, as well as technology skills that they will need to succeed in the 21st century world, whether in college or in a job. Students need to be able to use email, understand basic operating systems, use word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, and be able to do research on the internet. While doing internet research, a student needs to know how to evaluate an internet source for reliability, accuracy, and bias. Ed Tech can also help teachers organize themselves and their classes with email, websites, and personal information management software. Teachers can present materials through simulations, animations, multimedia presentations, and internet projects in ways that they never could before. Students will be more engaged and more likely to pay attention and learn the material when technology is used. Students can get extra help through only support systems or software. The corporate world has been using technology to increase performance and efficiency for decades. Education has only gotten onto the technology bandwagon in the last 5-10 years. We need to do more with technology so that our students are better educated and better able to succeed in life.

Classroom of the Future

In the future, I see (hopefully) every student having a wireless pda supplied by the school. It would have bluetooth, wifi, and broadband access for web, email, and instant messaging. Students would use these devices for taking notes, doing assignments, graphing calculator, data acquisition, PIM (schedule, assignments, contacts, etc.), web and podcasts, research, collaboration with other students and experts, assessments (sent to teacher for grading). Students would be more efficient and organized and can bring the device anywhere to do work and research. The teacher would have software on their computer to link to all the students' devices and to send and receive data, messages, assignments. Think about the collaboration and research possibilities. Think about the decrease in time for teachers to copy papers, hand out items, and grade papers. Think of the savings in paper too. The sad thing is that this technology exists today. Just look at the Palm TX, Treo Smartphones, iPhone, Blackberry, and other PDAs and smart devices. Someday though, we'll be able to use what the business community relies on as a great educational tool. Some schools and classrooms do this now, but it is no where near as widespread as it could, and should be.

Using PowerPoint for Unit and Lesson organization

I have finally completed a project that I thought of many years ago. I have all of my class units and lessons organized using PowerPoint. Here's how it works: 1. I have a main PPT file that is the Year Plan and has each unit on the slides. These are hyperlinked to the file folder for each unit. 2. Each Unit has a PPT file for it. This PPT file has the unit title, objectives, and then the unit itself starts. At this point, the PPT has the lecture materials and information on the slides. But it is more than that. 3. Throughout the PPT lesson, I have imbedded video clips, animations, simluations, hyperlinks to their assignments and resources, links to web sites and links to activities and labs. There are even slides for "QUIZ" and "TEST". 4. By setting it up this way, the one PPT file is the control link for an entire unit or lesson. To keep track of where I am in the unit with any specific class, I only need to note what slide I left off on. Each slide is either lecture info, or a hyperlink to an assignment, video, lab sheets, or website. 5. This eliminates paper lesson plans, with separate files for everything else. Everything is in the PPT or hyperlinked to it. It also makes it very easy to modify, add, or delete things from the lessons. Everytime I see something new to add to a lesson, I just add the description and a link in the PPT. I think this is a great way to organize lessons. I have finally gotten organized to the point where I feel relaxed. And to think, it only took 6 years!

21st Century Education

What is it that our students really need to know when they graduate high school? Yes, they need some content knowledge, but with the web and instant access to the web, content knowledge is more readily available than when I was in school. Students need a new set of skills and schools need to change to meet this new need. The essential skills our students need (multiple sources and research prove these out as needed skills for college, careers, and life): Students need to be lifelong learners. They have to be able to access, evaluate, and use different forms of information, use critical thinking, and be able to use technology. Students need to be able to create solutions to problems and then present these solutions to others using various forms of media. Students need to display originality and employ problem solving skills as they create. Students need to be team players and need to be able to collaborate with others. They need to work successfully as a team, demonstrate cross-cultural awareness, and communicate complex ideas effectively. So, how do we teach them these skills? With new lessons and new assessments. Standardized tests and written exams are good for some things, but to teach 21st Century skills, we need to use Project Based Learning (PBL). This is how my college alma mater (www.wpi.edu) has been teaching students for decades and it works. With PBL, students learn how to find information, work in teams, solve problems, and present their ideas. These projects can be short and simple or long term and complex. There are a huge number of web sites and resources dedicated to PBL that all teachers should research. Let's help our students develop these new skills that they will need to be successful in the future.


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