Friday, July 25, 2008

Why I chose to teach?

This question of why I teach has been on my mind recently. Very simply, I want to affect positive change in young peoples lives. I want our youth to be excited about life and live to their potential. If I can be a catalyst in a students life so they are excited about learning then my professional needs have been met. It sounds kind of egotistical and selfish and I would agree that it is. There are lots of professions that allow us to help others. When I chose to become an educator I had a captive audience and the youngest students (most impressionable I thought) to work my magic with.

Each of us has challenges throughout our lives. All of our past experiences have made each of us who we are today. This does not mean that we have to let the past determine who we are. We also do not have to let go of the past - it is a part of who we are. If life is tough for you physically, mentally, emotionally, or economically, it is up to each one of us to decide that our life can change. Hopefully there will be people that can support us in our challenges. This is not to say that change is easy. It means we have to move forward and not let our past define us.

Our students come to us with things that are beyond their control and certainly beyond ours. Society has been plagued by many terrible things, which are too many to mention here. These sad situations are everywhere - your city and mine-large and small. It is my belief that it is up to us as a society, community, school district and teacher to change for the better, the lives of all of our children. Only then will we be able to live up to our own full potential.

The question, "Why I chose to teach?" is easily summed up by my belief that excellent teachers share the joy of learning with their students. It is what I want to do.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pixie 2-the software drawing program for me

I started using the software drawing program Pixie 2 from tech4learning a few months ago. I needed a creative drawing program for projects that my students could use to integrate into all subjects of the curriculum. In the past our school district has used most versions of Kid Pix. There are lots of drawing programs out there and I have looked at a few of them. I was ready for something new. Our labs were being upgraded and I needed something that would work with Macintosh Leopard (10.5) and this was shown to me at a conference to try out. I had looked at the free program Kerpoof but it did not have all of the bells and whistles that I wanted although it is a good program. Our school district has now ordered licenses of Pixie 2 for every computer in for both of my computer labs.

My goal was to become very familiar with the tools, menus and features so that when school starts I am very comfortable using it. I have spent lots of time creating things. Below is a short 2 minute tutorial that I made about the tools. It does not show how to use them instead what they are... I will get more in depth with another video a different time.

I like Pixie 2 a lot. It has many saving options which we will be using this year to showcase the students work. It was simple to add audio. It is easy to change the font in the text boxes, find, resize and move the stickers and best of all you can have lots of slides open all at the same time and move between each copying and pasting to your hearts content! I would say that the program is one of the nicest that I have worked with in terms of how easy it is to use and how many features that is has. I think that my kindergartners will find it simple to navigate around in and my 2nd graders will be amazed at the wonderful things that they will be able to create.

I have not been real successful in getting the video to upload on teachertube. The first one I made did upload successfully and it was saved as an .MP4 but I was not happy with the quality. See what you think. On my computer the .MOV was better but not so great uploaded here.

My daughter would not let me use my "teacher" voice to narrate it. I am sorry in advance if the voice is annoying to your ears :) I have never been good at impressions.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Education- Changing?

I have been reading many other blogs in recent days. I have been given a lot to think about. I have also been enjoying the conversations on Plurk (an online social network similar yet different from Twitter) with other educators. I am learning a lot, discovering new applications, websites and starting to feel networked to others involved in technology in education.

Some of things that I have read and discussed are how education has fundamentally stayed the same for many, many years. Strong arguments could be made that support this. Just like most studies, you can find data that supports your biases. This is sad in some ways. Personally, I don't think that teachers have ever been given the respect that they deserve, for what is in my opinion, one of the most important professions in our society. I think that schools have been underfunded and struggle to get their budgets balanced every year. We continue to have segregation and schools that are in very poverty stricken neighborhoods that are needing our most talented and dedicated teachers. Parents and educational staff have always wanted the best for their children. There have always been exceptional teachers and administrators. There have always been star students and others that are troubled.

I disagree strongly though that education has stayed the same and that the challenges we face are the same as before. The changes are not all good or all bad. Some of the change has been federally mandated and other change has been societal. Recently the No Child Left Behind law and the testing that comes with it, has changed our schools. There are arguments on both sides about whether this legislation has been good for our students or not. You will have your own opinion about it. Not so far in the past, students with exceptional needs were not mainstreamed in the classroom. Individual Educational Plans (IEP's) and Title 1 services were not offered. Alternative and charter schools were unheard of. Students as global citizens was a concept that was not even thought of.

The majority of students used to come from two parent households. We did not have to compete with anything other than the television for the students attention. Teachers had much more authority in the classroom. Our students stayed in the school district for most of their 13 years. A high school diploma was all that you needed to get a decent job. Typewriters, pen and paper, World Book Encyclopedia (and other great reference materials), film strips and overhead projectors were the tools that we taught with. We memorized everything.

I do not think that technology has made as big of an impact in our schools as some might think. In fact, there are lots of school districts that have the technology but are not using it to its potential for many reasons. We are just now starting a time that has the potential to impact our schools in ways that we are unable to foresee. This next generation of teachers are digital natives. This comfort level and ease in which in their every day lives they use the technology will hopefully transfer into the classroom environment. The potential is there for this to happen in ways that it has never happened before.

How do I want education to evolve? Students, of course need to learn the basics in reading, writing and arithmetic. I want them to learn so much more. I want my fellow educators to assist our students to become thinkers. I want our students to be taught the importance of working together. We live in a small/big world (made smaller/bigger by the internet). Only then will we be able to solve real world problems. I don't have the answers to how. I just know that our students are our future. How the future will be, depends upon what we do now. There are challenges ahead for those of us in education. These challenges need to be embraced and not fought. Technology is another tool in which we can help our students reach their true potential.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Communication-The reason for technology

Ten years ago as the technology revolution came into my household I was onboard. I embraced computers and all of the applications that came with them. When cell phones came out I wanted to have one of those as well. . Because technology changes so rapidly all of us have to decide what we need to have and what we can live without. In today's economic times, this is more important than ever.

Most important to me is communication-the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs. This is the prime reason that the technology revolution has taken off. As human beings we have a fundamental need to communicate with others. The internet has allowed us to communicate with others all around the earth and even in outer space pretty effortlessly. Communication is sometimes a two way affair with instant messaging, email, audio and video conferencing, and phone calls. At other times others have written their thoughts, audio or videos and we have a more passive role in reading, listening or watching and then possibly expressing our opinion in a comment.

We upgrade computers as components become faster and smaller. We have been building desktop computers for many years as it a hobby in our family. We upgrade our cell phones as better ones come out with features that we think are important to us. We do not get the newest and the greatest when it gets released. An exception to this has been with pc video games which my sons have needed to purchase on the release day :)

As an educator it is my job to show this new generation how to use the technology in a responsible and thoughtful way. My students learn that not everything that they read is the truth. Pictures can be altered, research articles are author biased and need to be cross checked, and some things are just put out there for our entertainment.

All day long I am at the computer for different things. I am a website designer and do monthly updates for a professional organization. I love working in photoshop on personal photos. I instant message with my family and friends, communicate with different social networking groups, get the news, read interesting articles, look up recipes, look at reviews for items I am buying, shop, do my bills and so much more.

Just a short time ago, our lives were still fulfilling without the technology communication that we take for granted. Today I cannot imagine my life without my cell phone or my computers and the applications that I use everyday. The old ways have not been forgotten. They have been replaced in my world with newer ways to communicate and for that, I am grateful.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Competition...A change in perspective

This morning as I sat down to write this blog I thought I would write about testing in our schools (and in life) but that is for a future time...

When I was in college I read a book about cooperative games. You work together and emphasize play, participation, challenge and fun rather than defeating someone. Competition in my mind was not a good thing since there was always going to be someone that had to lose. How could that be positive in the life of a young child or for the world for that matter? The idea of working together in a game without anyone "losing" and feeling sad because of it, was pleasing to me.

This idea could be applied to life. No winners or losers - cooperation and problem solving. I began teaching more than 20 years ago and had this philosophy in my classroom. Very young children are easily guided by the adults in their lives. If I emphasized cooperation then the students would follow. I cannot say how successful I was in affecting change but as the years have gone by I hope that my students have become cooperative problem solvers.

I became a mother in 1989 to twin sons. In the womb and since, they have been competitive, with each other and with the outside world. I was taken by surprise by this different and strong part of my sons being. I had to deal with it. I do not know how much of the competition is because they are boys. I had also thought before having children of my own, that boys and girls were more or less the same, molded by their environments and their genetics. Thoughts on that have changed too. In 1993 our daughter was born and she is in some ways more competitive than my sons are.

In the years since college my thoughts about competition in our lives has changed. My kids have taught me a lot. Competition is everywhere and it is not a bad thing. I know that all of us are competing all the time. I have also learned that we cannot cushion our children so that losing won't hurt. As adults we have to help our kids keep things in perspective. How we deal with winning and losing in life is much more important than whether we win or lose.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A tech teachers thoughts about summer...

Summer has always been my favorite season. I am a hot weather gal. I love the heat. I would thrive in any warm, humid and tropical weather place. I do not like air conditioning -never have, never will :)

Many in education use the summer as a time of relaxation, a time to renew and catch up on things that might not get done during the school year. It is a time to take a class to learn more about something related to what your area in education is or something unrelated but of interest to you. In Wisconsin, to keep your job, we are required to keep our teaching licenses renewed. There are new requirements for the recent teaching graduates but I must take 6 education college credits every 5 years. Teachers often have summer jobs by necessity. Some teachers teach summer school and also take the opportunity to keep getting smarter and better at teaching. I make a bit of extra income year round by creating and updating websites and fixing computers for co-workers, friends and strangers.

Computers and technology are never far from my thoughts or fingertips. I have found new contacts on facebook, watched youtube videos, listened to pandora radio, searched for great recipes, read the news, bought and sold on ebay, blogged and twittered on the computer. These last few summers I have taken the opportunity to do my required professional development for my computer teaching job. I take advantage of summer to teach myself technology and computer programs that I will be using in my teaching. During the school year it is a very busy time with much more "doing" and less learning on my part.

So this summer...
This summer has been a glorious one so far. Our family went to see an outdoor theater performance on a glorious summer day of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Nights Dream" at American Players Theater in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I have had the pleasure of kayaking with my daughter on quiet water just minutes away from our house. I have been reading for pleasure, fantastic books that I don't take the time to read during the school year. My garden with tomatoes, peas, green beans, patty pan squash, strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, herbs and flowers is thriving. I take pleasure in weeding and watering and watching it grow. I have been biking around on country roads around our home. In a few weeks I will be sending my daughter off on a river kayaking adventure for 14 days through girl scouts. Since before our kids came along, more than 20 years, my husband, our dog and I are going camping together in northern Wisconsin. We plan on fishing from kayaks, going on walks, relaxing by the campfire and just hanging together. Our sons have been attending college at UW La Crosse, about 2 hours from our house. This is the first summer that they have not lived at home. They have a fuel efficient car and can come back for weekend visits occassionally. They are taking a break from classes this summer and are fortunate to be employed and working hard for the university computer & network services. Our household is quieter and I look forward to their visits.

The one constant in life is that things are always changing. In a short time the temperatures will be cooler. The days will get shorter. The leaves will be changing color. The fruits and vegetables will be ready to harvest. It will be time to go back to school and I will be ready.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Computer Teacher- Do you teach typing?

Do you do keyboarding with your students? It is a question that I often get asked by the public, parents, and teachers. I teach the very youngest students in the public school system- the kindergarten, 1st,and 2nd grade. I do not teach keyboarding. My students do type- stories, poetry, reports and other things. You must have a separate keyboarding 4-6 grade license in Wisconsin to teach it and I have not got certified.

People are surprised that our youngest students are having computer class in school. They think it is fantastic that we are preparing our students for the future. So then I have to explain what I "teach" if it is not keyboarding. In a few sentences I can sum it up. I integrate technology with the curriculum. Whatever the students are learning in reading, science, math, and social studies, technology can enhance and make it more meaningful in their lives.

I admit that some activities are more about skill building. Math and reading software is readily available and the students really enjoy "playing" Mighty Math Zoo Zillions and Reader Rabbit I Can Read With Phonics . The software for the educational environment has been wonderful and I have had many years of using some of the best programs.

I often used more open ended and broad based software such Kidspiration and KidPix to have students create a project that was integrated with something that they were learning in their classroom. These activities would have more of a finished process to it. Most often the students would leave with a printed copy of what they had done.

I have come to rely and use the internet for much more in teaching my classes. The amount of websites with excellent learning activities and information for our youngest readers is phenomenal.

New things for me...this upcoming fall I will be needing to change my teaching in many ways. It is a challenge and something that I am excited about. We have made the leap to a new intel Macintosh lab with Leopard 10.5 in one of my schools and in the other newer eMacs with Tiger 10.4.6. My wonderful software will be gone (given away with the computers to the classroom)and only replaced with a few new things for this year. I am going to take this opportunity to do much more digital storytelling with the students using a new piece of software to me, Pixie 2. I am going to put their podcasts and digital story projects on I am looking forward to the challenges and the faster and more reliable computers I will have this year. The only thing that I can rely upon is that nothing ever stays the same. The possibilities are endless for using technology with the curriculum.

So no, I do not teach typing :) but I do have the best job!! Some kids like music, art or physical education- some students don't. Every student I have met LOVES computers. I have the opportunity every day to help out the staff I work with and have new challenges to wake up to in the morning.