Tag Archive for technology

Mapping Fourth and Fifth Grade Technology

I have updated our fourth and fifth grade technology curriculum maps. Please leave a comment if you have questions or good project ideas from your courses.

Fourth Grade Technology

Fifth Grade Technology

Leadership In Technology

The Santa Fe Leadership Institute has dedicated their monthly newsletter to technology. Check it out.

21st Century Learning and Progressive Education

Many education technology bloggers (1, 2, 3) have issued a call to transform schools into “21st century” learning institutions. Speaking broadly, these schools would emphasize student-centered instruction, project-based learning, and lots of technology use.

These authors make frequent reference to popular new books that describe how society is changing as a result of ubiquitous communication and productivity technologies. Titles include Switch (Heath and Heath), The World Is Flat (Thomas Friedman), A Whole New Mind (Daniel Pink).

I think they’re reading the wrong books. Adding more technology does not change teaching practice. The educational revolution they describe already has a name: progressive education. Over 100 years old, progressive education emphasizes learning through experience, the unique qualities of each learner, and the critical role of education in a democratic society.

Let us adopt a new reading list for 21st century learning, grounded in education theory and schools rather than technology and social change.

John Dewey: Democracy and Education, Education As Experience

Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences, Five Minds For the Future

Alfie Kohn: Punished By Rewards, The Homework Myth

Nell Noddings: The Challenge to Care in Schools

Focus On Assessment

Students created an eight-page newsletter entirely on their own, learning new tech skills as needed, and working exclusively during homeroom periods.

Last year, I co-taught fourth and fifth grade technology classes with the homeroom teachers. The first time through, I focused primarily on designing effective learning environments for elementary students. The best activities provided open-ended project opportunities for the kids, taught some basic skills, and tied tightly to homeroom activities.

This year, I plan to emphasize assessment design in my planning. Wiggins and McTighe remind me that assessment design ought to precede lesson design. Identify the learning goals and objectives and then construct assessments to determine student mastery. Paul Black suggests that I vary assessments in form and provide students with feedback useful for further improvement. Bill Fitzgerald makes a push for portfolio-based assessment.

I will certainly tap into the common forms of assessment used at Catlin Gabel. I only teach one 40 minute period per week (the homeroom teachers cover the other 40 minute period). The teachers have designed effective assessments and put a lot of energy into building students’ familiarity with them. Rubric-based assessment is common, which fits the project-based tech curriculum nicely. It also suggests that I could have the kids self-assess, which would build their self-knowledge, provide them with formative feedback, and assess their skill and content mastery.

Students also build summative portfolios in homeroom, which they finalize and share at the end of the year. I could tap into that, but since nearly all tech activities are already grounded in a homeroom project, students may already build portfolio artifacts around them. It seems counterproductive to insist on a technology portfolio piece, when we go to great effort to teach technology as a tool that helps the students get homeroom work done.

Also worth remembering: I have 88 students and a full-time job back in the IT office! I am unlikely to find hours to pore over long assessments. However, if students post assessment products to our course website or their network folder, that will help me review these items quickly and write feedback and notes for future reports.

What assessment techniques do you use with elementary-age students? How do you record them in a way that is useful for future reference?

Collaborative Learning on an International Stage

I will present two sessions at the above-named conference on Friday, September 24 in Boise, ID. Here are my two sessions.

Structuring an Online Conversation: the Why Not? Model

Let’s imagine that you have found an international partner for a virtual exchange. Now what? This session will describe the key features of a rich online environment and curriculum for international collaboration. Learn how to take your virtual  exchange beyond the “pen pal” stage. We will explore the “Why Not?” model used to connect Oregon schools with teens in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Jordan, and Iraq. Session participants will be invited to share success stories and challenges from their virtual exchanges.

Global Education: More Than Just Trips

The presenters will share global education projects that go beyond cultural exchange and language learning. Examples will highlight international service, the Global Viewfinder Film Series, trip planning, curricular integration, cross-grade collaborations, technology, ongoing partnerships, and sustainability. We will encourage attendees to share interdisciplinary global projects that happen at their schools.

Elementary Tech Integration Progress

This year, we are trying a new model for integrating technology instruction into fourth and fifth grades. Our weekly schedule offers two 40 minute periods per class for technology instruction, and classes have access to the adjacent 4/5 computer lab throughout the rest of the day. As a result, students use technology at various times of the day as well as during technology periods.

This year, we have made an effort to more fully integrate the dedicated technology periods with the homeroom academic program. We had a goal: to make as many technology class activities as possible relate to specific homeroom activities. Technology activities could relate in one of three ways:

Parallel with homeroom work
Students complete work for an active homeroom project during technology periods. For example, this week students are conducting research and documenting sources for a project on native plants. During homeroom periods, students have collected and studied native plant specimens found in the woods.

Fifth grade students are working on a Fractured Fairytales project, in which they invent altered versions of classic fairytales. During technology periods, students are writing and formatting text and graphics in Microsoft Word, with the ultimate goal of creating a digital book of their piece.

In Science class, students complete experiments to determine how much water different paper towels can absorb and prepare to report their results back to the towel manufacturers. During the Technology periods, students record their data in Microsoft Excel and prepare graphs to include in their letters.

Extension of homeroom work
At other times, we design a technology component to a project that begins after the homeroom component is complete. While not as tightly integrated with homeroom work, a well-designed extension project may still pursue an authentic learning objective. We must take care that the electronic final product is not superfluous, considering the work already completed during homeroom.

Early in the year, fifth grade students visited three farms as part of their Pitchfork To Plate yearlong theme. After students returned from the visit, they created line art diagrams in Microsoft Word that explained one process they observed on the farms.

Standalone Technology Activities
This is the loosest form of coordination with the homeroom. One might even argue that these activities only support technology-specific curricular goals. I believe that the technology goals of the curriculum should still support aims of the homeroom. If they do not, then we have insufficient coordination across students’ learning experiences.

Consider typing practice. While using a typing application is a pure technology activity, the skill of typing is important to gain, so that it does not become an obstacle to writing at a reasonable speed. By fifth grade, students complete a majority of their writing on a computer, so the technology activity is directly aligned with a meaningful homeroom objective. It’s been important to keep students focused reaching speed and accuracy benchmarks, since the classroom tie-in (the authentic learning purpose) is less obvious than with other technology class activities.

We have so far this year succeeded in always teaching applications in the context of a homeroom activity, avoiding the temptation to teach them only within the context of technology class.

Joint Planning
We have also experimented with models for coordinating lesson planning between homeroom and technology teachers. At the start of the year, I met with the homeroom teachers to agree on broad curricular goals but taught all of the technology periods myself, in order to establish a strong relationship with the students and get to know the curriculum well. In November, homeroom teachers began to take on some of the teaching responsibilities, in order to ensure strong integration with the homeroom program and help carry the teaching load.

We pursued different approaches to sharing periods in the two grades. In fourth grade, homeroom teachers teach Monday technology periods, and I teach Wednesdays. In fifth grade, homeroom teachers are currently teaching the first half of Fractured Fairytales, and I will take the class back over later this month to work on the layout and publication components of the project.

So far, alternating periods has led to tighter integration and planning, since I am essentially co-teaching the class with the homeroom teachers. Alternating 2-3 week chunks has required less coordination, which leads to looser integration but requires less planning time. We will see later this year which approach was ultimately best overall.

Next Year
It is just about time to give some thought to next year. Will I teach at least half the technology periods, as I have this year? Will we change the technology schedule so that we have fewer dedicated technology periods and integrate more of the technology instruction into the regular work of the homeroom? In our middle and high schools, we have no dedicated technology periods. Technology is wholly integrated with regularly classroom instruction, imperfectly but authentically. Should we move in the same direction in our elementary program, and how quickly?

How do you integrate technology knowledge and skills instruction in your elementary programs?

Never mind the toys

Oh, how many toys exist to consider.

Kindle! Nook! Reader!
iPhone! Droid! Nexus!
Ning! Twitter! Facebook!
Netbook! Apple tablet! XO tablet!
Smart Board! Active Board! Wiimote!
Google Apps! Chrome!

Education technology blogs appear obsessed with tracking the latest gadgets. Certainly, new product announcements provide a rich source of content for writers. It is easier to reflect on the latest company news and speculate on its effect on education than to consider the core question of education. How does one design rich learning opportunities that will make the greatest difference for students?

Face it: most of the devices above won’t make a bit of difference to teaching and learning. Let’s stop talking about the devices and start talking about students, teachers, and learning environments. I think Warlick has got it right. So does Larry Cuban. Tom Frizelle, too.

Some of our teachers have also got it right. Suspicious about education technology, they tend to shy away from trainings and conversations about computers in the classroom. It’s too bad, because ed tech professionals deserve our reputation for relentless optimism about new technologies. It’s up to us to sing a new tune: all about teaching and learning, all the time.

Let’s promote with our teachers only the technologies that show real promise and stick with them for at least a period of years. Focus on how a technology integrates with an existing, well-designed learning unit or activity. A little skepticism about new technologies may also help demonstrate our ability to think critically.

Forget the new toys. Let’s think deeply about our students, curriculum, and pedagogy.

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!

Teacher meetings

I have attended a couple of really valuable start of year meetings with teachers in the last two days. The first was to plan the fourth and fifth grade technology curriculum for the year with those homeroom teachers. I am teaching fourth and fifth grade technology for the first time and really looking forward to it! Our plan is to align technology activities throughout the year with classroom activities taking place with the students’ other teachers, whether in homeroom, arts, languages, or P.E. So far, we have identified the units with which a technology activity seems to fit best — in productivity application use, publishing, research, or other technology theme. We will also give some time to technology as its own subject of study, for example to improve the students’ keyboard skills or develop sequential and logical reasoning skills (a.k.a. programming) using Scratch. Classes begin in two weeks’ time!

Today’s meeting was with three upper school arts teachers who are really keen to further develop the program’s website presence. Given the role of the arts in encouraging students to present or perform their work in a public space, it’s a natural fit for the teachers to explain the design of the school’s arts program and publish loads of student work online. They will be using our site’s new photo gallery and embedded media features to make this happen. We also devoted some time to the possibility of student portfolio publication and blogging, so that students could publish their work directly to the website. When upper school faculty meetings begin, the upper school teachers will give some consideration to this question: what is the pedagogical value of students publishing (or performing) their work to a general, public audience?

Discussing teaching, learning, and technology with teachers. This is some of our IT department’s most important work.

Thinking about curricular integration


The PNAIS TechShare planning committee would like each member school to articulate its technology philosophy and future plans. They hope that answering these questions will inform the technology planning efforts of other member schools. The committee asked us to think about where we are now and where we are headed. I responded to their questions as follows:

1. Describe your school’s technology philosophy.

Catlin Gabel technology resources support the educational mission of the school. We aspire to a high standard of excellence, delivering systems that work reliably and with high quality. We anticipate and plan for new opportunities and empower users to investigate new applications of technology, solve computer problems, and collaborate with IT staff. We carry out our work with a support orientation and high integrity. We make decisions in order to minimize the environmental impact of computer use.

2. What is your vison for classroom technology five years from now?

To continue to deepen its application to teaching and learning in a variety of forms. All teachers will list their curricular and pedagogical goals for their classes, consider how technology could help meet these goals, and regularly attempt new, technology-enriched activities. The forms will cover the range of available technologies, such as touch surfaces, the social web, data-collection devices, audio and video publishing, and so on. Teachers will feel fully supported by IT and empowered to design and attempt new, technology-rich activities in their classes. Teachers will participate in an active community of practice with their colleagues both within the school and beyond.

3. Do you have teachers willing to adapt curriculum to utilize technology innovations,or asking for technology so that they can?

Yes, though I would use language such as “employ technology to support curricular goals in their courses.” I would say that a large minority of teachers change curricula as they employ technology in their classes. We will know better after the completion of an upper school laptop program survey next week.

4. Explain how you support teacher innovators.

We consider all teachers to be potential innovators and therefore approach them about the same. We respond quickly and definitively to teacher requests for advice and support, including appearing in their classes to assist a teacher with technology-rich lessons if desired. We encourage all teachers to thoughtfully consider how technology could support teaching and learning in their classes. Often, innovation comes from surprising sources — not necessarily the most technically advanced individuals. We encourage all teachers to share their work with technology with their colleagues in both formal and informal settings. We encourage all teachers to actively seek professional development opportunities here and outside the school.

5. Describe your technology professional development plan for all employees.

The school offers three sources of funding for professional development: individual, department/division, and schoolwide. Individuals have an allotment of funds to spend where they prefer. Divisions and departments have funds to undertake professional development efforts for some or all of their members. Schoolwide initiatives such as All Kinds of Minds are also available. The school does not have a separate plan for technology professional development nor specific requirements for how much technology PD individuals should undertake.

6. Define the infrastructure (wiring, traffic capacities, switches, severs, wirless) changes you will need to make to support the five-year vision you described above.

We feel that we already have in place the baseline infrastructure to support this vision. We will continue to make incremental changes, such as introducing a wireless controller to enable better management of our wireless network, piloting small form-factor laptops such as the eeePC and 2Go to assess their potential for the classroom, and investigating social web site tools for our intranet and public-facing web sites.

7. What changes in human resources will you need to make to support that vision?

We are meeting our needs for the immediate future. We will continue to assess the workloads of our employees and request increases as appropriate.