Tag Archive for teaching

Seeking Engineering Intensive Teacher

The Engineering Intensive Teacher will join two UPrep teachers to deliver a three-week, full-time, hands-on, introductory engineering course to high school students who have signed up for this January elective course. This is a fantastic opportunity for an engineer interested in working with youth or an aspiring teacher seeking classroom experience.

Position description and online application

Where Is My Network Folder?

I designed this activity to make the idea of a network folder more concrete to our fourth grade students. Annually, students struggle each year to understand where to save their files. The operating system does not provide much help. Local and network folders practically look the same. Sometimes, they even have the same name (for example, a Mac local and network home folders)!

Students started in their classroom, the school’s computer lab. They traced the path of an Ethernet cable out of the back of a computer, into the wall, and to the building network closet. There, they observed how the network switch transfers the signal from a copper Ethernet cable to glass fiber optic cables. They then traced the path of these cables from one building to the next, overhead and underground, until they reached the server room.

Students observed the many servers, noted their names, and looked at their network folders on a display attached to the servers. They collected notes on the experience and answered several questions seeking to assess their understanding of the experience.

More photos from the field trip

Undergrads and IT

My principal challenge in schools is to encourage thoughtful, useful adoption of technology to strategically support teaching and learning. Along the way, I encounter varying attitudes regarding technology in schools. We have early adopters, heavy users, techno-skeptics, occasional users, and more. I often wonder what is the best way to reach different types of technology users so that each makes the most effective use of technology for his/her educational context.

This October 2009 Educause study of undergraduate students and information technology provides some useful information that helps inform my efforts and may help temper fears that our IT department wants everyone to use IT as much as possible.

80% of students were using a learning management system (e.g., Moodle) during the quarter or semester of the survey.

63% found the experience of using a learning management system “positive” or “very positive.”

45% of students indicated that most or almost all of their instructors use IT effectively in their courses.

70% found that IT made working in their courses “more convenient.”

49% felt that using IT improved their learning.

60% prefer moderate use of IT in their courses. Only 4% preferred exclusive use of IT, and 2% no IT. Students appreciate the face-to-face learning experience.

This provides some useful language for explaining our current approach to IT integration to support teaching and learning. We would like for all teachers to explore using IT. A learning management system may smooth class operations, leaving more time to focus on learning. Face-to-face learning is still most highly valued.

Experience and Education

We read Dewey’s Experience and Education first in our graduate program. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of the necessity to make authentic student experience central in the design of a educational environments.

We introduced fourth grade students to web research with a simple activity. Ask them to find ten discrete facts on the web using Google Search. We modeled good search techniques in class and provided two paper resources. One listed the ten facts to find, and the other described a cyclical method for refining search terms in order to improve results. We talked about authority of websites and how to scan a web page for content. This introductory lesson went really well. Students learned the protocol, proceeded through the activity, and found the facts.

More recently, students applied this knowledge in a plant research project. Each assigned one plant they had seen in the Oregon woods, the students searched for the taxonomic name for the plant, its ideal growing environment, nutritional value, average height, and other facts. Students took much longer to find this information. Many got stuck partway through and needed help.”I can’t find the scientific name!” “Where can I find ‘food value’?”

Why the difference? The second activity was more authentic and experiential. Students were engaging with real information about plants they had found and held and searching for them on the “real” web. These searches had not been tested in advance to compile a worksheet. Rather, students had to understand what a taxonomic name actually is, rather than look for the term “scientific name.” They had to be flexible and understand that “nutritional value” or comments on why an animal might eat these plants made up the “food value” they were seeking. Charting their own course through an authentic environment produced far more useful learning than completing a structured, finite activity.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian disaster are very present in our minds these weeks. We are exposed to frequent reports from news sources and support our students’ efforts to raise money and awareness for Haiti. However, all of this does not compare when one’s colleague relates her stories of past trips to Haiti, nervous attempts to contact friends post-quake, and informs the school community that her doctor husband has just left for Haiti with a medical team.

She writes:

It is with those computers that were donated by CG and the Rotary, [my son’s] help, albeit small, in setting them up that has allowed some of the connections and relationships with others around the world. The people of Matenwa are still able to communicate and receive email/news, which is amazing. It is so important to them to know others care and are trying to help.

In the long-term, these experiences are without a doubt more “educational,” but they are messy, difficult to manage, and complicated to assess. We should show the confidence to accommodate the short-term disorder and uncertainty that accompany kids’ struggles with authentic content in order to foment powerful learning.

Fourth and Fifth Grades

It’s been a month since I last posted here? Wow. Two new responsibilities have kept me busy: managing our new web site configuration and teaching fourth and fifth grade technology classes. I see these lovely kids twice a week for forty minutes each. It feels exciting and appropriate to get back into the classroom after too many years in the office. Luckily, I still have all of my other responsibilities to keep me busy! ;^)

Fourth grade students take technology classes for the first time this year. They started typing practice in third grade but otherwise have had only occasional computer contact in their classrooms. We started with class expectations, explained the Smart Board, and then set up usernames and passwords to access network resources. Fifth graders got started similarly but then left for a week to visit three farms as part of their “Pitchfork to Plate” curriculum.

My main goal this year is to have technology periods build on activities taking place in the rest of the kids’ curriculum. The first two projects are already underway. Fourth grade students start keeping a reading log, and I’ve build an online database for them to use. They will use their newly acquired network accounts to access the database and post their first book of the year. This will allow for a simple lesson in structured data, fields, records, and reports. As the year goes on, they will see patterns in their own reading: what titles, authors, genres, and difficulty levels of books they have read. Once we have a fair bit of data, the reports will become more complex, and we will take a look at reading patterns across the entire class. I am excited to start the year with databases, which most adults conflate with spreadsheets!

Fifth grade students will build paper-based diagrams of how substances move through the farms they have studied. Whether studying milk, meat, or corn, the students will sketch a plan, search for clipart, and each create one or two frames for their diagrams. We are using as an example National Geographic digrams (though we won’t quite approximate the quality of their illustrations). We successfully resisted the temptation to use presentation software, which would only allow us to view one step in the process at a time. It’s important to us to be able to view the whole process at once, and we have the billboard space to spare! I suppose we could also create some extra-wide web pages with horizontal scrollbars, a favorite trick from the old days.

On a technical note, I searched for an hour to find a good source of free, vector, farm clipart, only to find the best source under my nose: Microsoft Office Clip Gallery! Too bad their clipart objects only download properly in Safari, and Firefox is our default browser!

Another tech point: I am using Apple Remote Desktop in the lab to make batch changes to the 22 computers in there. It’s allright, but I miss the capabilities of Workgroup Manager (but don’t really want to do the back-end Windows-Mac integration work there, either).

I’d like to expand my professional learning network to include more elementary tech educators. Drop me a line if you’re in that group!