On Friday, January 27th, I had the pleasure of attending Brock University's Technology Showcase. I was very excited about this professional development event because I have learned in such a short time just how amazing technology is when integrated into the classroom.
The first workshop I attended was put on by Giancarlo Brotto from SMART Technologies. This workshop was fabulous - I learned so much in a 75 minute period. Mr. Brotto was a very engaging presenter, and was able to get us involved in his presentation by utilizing the technology that he has obviously mastered: the SMART Board. Even more, he explained to us the extent to which SMART Technologies are useful in an increasingly tech-based classroom. For example, he talked to us about SMART Sync, the program that a teacher can use to literally block students from using any potentially distracting websites (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to name a few) on their computers while he or she is instructing. He mentioned the new SMART Table that is being introduced which will allow younger Primary grade students to work as a group using the interactive surface. Finally, Mr. Brotto showed us how to effectively use clickers and the Front Row system to benefit all learners and teach under a Universal Design for Learning approach.
I also attended the "iPads in the Elementary Classroom" workshop which proved to be inspiring. Presenters included a principal and three teachers from a Halton Catholic school who have facilitated learning in their school via the iPad and its numerous Apps. Two classroom teachers spoke to using the iPad as a way for students to engage more intensely with word study and guided reading practices. The special education resource teacher talked about using the iPad to successfully reach an SK student who had appeared to have no interest in integrating into a school environment.
These technologies are incredible and provide amazing opportunities for both students and teachers to learn and grow. Mr. Brotto of SMART Technologies made a poignant point: using technology in the classroom is not about teaching how to use technology, but how to teach via technology. Technology is not what needs to be learned, it simply provides a more current, meaningful and engaging journey to the gaining of knowledge.
Since the start of my Tech class at Brock, I have absolutely loved having a blog where I can express my thoughts and feelings about education. Today in class we were asked a question about the use of blogs for blended learning and the concerns that may arise from their use. Blended learning involves the mixing of different learning environments. In terms of technology, blended learning would entail the mixing of face-to-face learning with computer-mediated learning. My understanding of this is that face-to-face learning occurs in the classroom with a teacher and classmates physically present. Computer-mediated learning to me means that students can learn via their computer - by interacting with other students using video chats, surfing the Internet for research purposes, and of course, creating blogs.
When I think about students creating blogs, I think of blogging as a means to enhance and improve student learning. Adding a technological dimension to their education means that they are gaining skills in "netiquette" (which is so important in increasingly web-based communication practices) and have a way to describe their thinking processes regarding content that they've learned, such as I am doing right now!
Concerns that I have about students using blogs in a blended learning environment mainly surround Internet safety and the creating of one's digital footprint. Beginning at such a young age, students now have the ability to create their digital footprint and leave a potentially very permanent trail behind. Teachers need to ensure that they make their students aware of the safety risks in using one's full name, address, phone number, or any other type of identification that could potentially land them in trouble. Even though I have put my full name on my blog and Twitter account, etcetera, it is important to note that young children may not have developed full-fledged reasoning skills when it comes to knowing the "okay" places to identify oneself and how to maintain privacy when/where necessary. Young children can be very vulnerable to online safety risks, and we as teachers need to build this into our lessons that involve the use of technological communication just as we tell them to "look both ways before you cross the street".
On a final note, I believe blogging is a great way for students to really develop their craft as writers and become familiar with a tool that can lead to reflection of learning, higher-level thinking skills, and decision-making.
Yesterday, a group of classmates and I did a presentation on a couple of chapters from our Tech textbook. One of the topics that we talked to our class about was Project-Based Learning and how it can be effective in engaging students in their learning. The video below was listed as a must-see by our instructor, and it sums up the benefits of using Project-Based Learning in the classroom exceptionally. Thinking back to my days in elementary and high school, I wish I had had the opportunity to take part in more project-based activities where I could really put my learning to good use and create solutions or think much more critically. I was labelled one of the "smart kids" back then and took pride in my academic achievements. However, thinking back to these times I can completely relate to what was said in this video because I was simply able to memorize facts or sentences and regurgitate them on tests. I don't think that this means that I was ever smart - when I think of someone who is smart, I think of someone who has the ability to think outside the box, to question "facts", and who tries to build their own knowledge by taking in many sources of information and figuring out what all that information means to them. I'm not trying to say that people who can memorize things are not smart; I am saying that I wish I had tried harder and spent more time on thinking critically rather than memorizing things someone else told me were true.
Furthermore, project-based learning requires collaboration, something I think is so important for students to learn as early on as possible. I believe it is inevitable that there will be competition and the desire to be "the best" at something amongst all students. However if we provide them the tools to learn the benefits of collaboration, we may at least be able to relieve some of the pressure these students feel to be the best and compete with their peers. I think in the end, the benefits of collaboration can beat any of the so-called benefits of being the best.
Competition can isolate, collaboration can empower.
Just watched this video with some very interesting "facts" about the world and how fast information changes and, sometimes, becomes obsolete. I got goosebumps watching this video because it shows how small our world is becoming due to technological advancements that may have been thought of as science-fiction only decades ago. When I watched and read all of the "facts", one thing stood out in my mind as a teacher who is going to be educating students on "problems that we don't even know we have yet" and preparing them for "jobs that don't even exist yet": critical thinking and inquiry are of utmost importance, and we need to foster this in our classrooms for the future citizens of this world so they know what to make of the world they live in, because we have no idea now what that world will look like. I highly doubt that my parents ever thought a handheld device could hold thousands of songs and videos, access a whole other world of information, and type a word into something called "Google" and find thousands of possible answers.
Speaking back to the Building Futures workshops I attended yesterday, this was a main theme in the Effective Literacy workshop, mentioned by Ellen Davey who has been a principal in elementary schools for a number of years. She talked about how important it is for her to see that students are engaged in their learning, because really - if they're not engaged in the process of learning now, that "learning" is going to me meaningless to them in the future, but to a whole other extent because that learning will have become obsolete by the time they may be able to put it to use. What I'm trying to get at is that I think inquiry is so, so, so important. Students need to learn how to find the information they want to know and discover more information on the way. They need to have critical thinking skills so that when they are bombarded by all the new information, they can make decode its meaning, make sense of it and make it relevant to their own lives.
I mentioned above that the video provides a number of "facts", and I purposely put the word facts into quotations because I think it's true what they say in the video about information becoming obsolete - so how long will it take for the information in this video to become obsolete? We need to educate students, and all people, that indeed, "shift happens" and we need to know how to prepare for it and make something of it.
Today, Brock University's Hamilton campus hosted a Ministry of Education professional development workshop called "Building Futures". The event featured educators with various experiences within the profession as speakers who discussed with teacher candidates like myself topics that are of high priority in Ontario education. Each teacher candidate had the opportunity to attend three workshops, and I chose to attend Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools, Laying the Foundation for Effective Instruction in Literacy, and Special Education.
The workshop sessions were each very informative and I was happy to have the chance to listen to such experienced educators speak on topics that are so important to the profession I'm about to enter. However, I found the most beneficial speaker to be Jennifer Dickenson (apologies if I've spelled her name incorrectly!), a 4th year teacher. Jennifer spoke to us about her experiences as a new teacher including her recent completion of the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) and the importance of having a mentor through the process. She advised us that no matter what, we're going to experience a lot of stresses and frustrations as a new teacher, but that we will also greatly benefit from having a mentor. She talked very highly of the mentors that she worked with and the relationships she's fostered with them. She encouraged us to be as open with our future mentors as possible, including about our insecurities, to allow us to gain the most from the experience. Regardless of the nerves she expressed having at the beginning of her presentation, I found her words to be the most valuable and motivational as a teacher candidate.
I cannot believe that there are only 8 weeks left of classes until I begin my second teaching block. Although I'm anxious about all of the assignments that will be due and the quizzes that will be had, it's extremely hard to believe that it's finally happening - I'm finally going to achieve the goal that I set for myself at about age 4 (20 years in the making!)... I'm going to be a full-fledged, Ontario-certified teacher.
It has been quite the journey, especially because I did not take the route that may have gotten me to this place as soon as possible. I decided to extend my 4-year degree at McMaster University into a 5-year trek and then take a year off to work full-time at a daycare centre, rather than go straight from high school into the 4-year concurrent education program at a university, which would have gotten me to this exact same place (albeit probably a few alterations) two years ago. I feel as though these two extra years have given me the opportunity to really know and become confident in myself and know that I still do want to pursue a career in the field of education. I have absolutely nothing against the concurrent education program - I think it is a great option for those who are totally confident in their choice of career and applaud those who have combined both their undergraduate degree and teacher certification into an all-for-one feat. However, I know that for myself, I was not so sure that after 4 years my desire and passion for education would remain the same and honestly, that I would be cut out for the teaching profession.
Regardless of my ramblings above, the main point to my reflective post on the past 20 years of my life is that it is possible to achieve your dreams and goals, even if you take a few detours along the way. I hope to inspire the same drive and ambition in my future students because the feeling of accomplishing goals, especially those set at a very young age of 4-years, is invaluable.
Loved reading this short article from The Daily Beast on how to improve your mind (and soul) in 2012. I'm going to try to incorporate some of these things into my life as a New Years Resolution. Even if they don't necessarily make me "smarter", I can see how some of these tips can improve my life, which I think everyone can benefit from every now and then.