Saturday, May 23, 2009

AutoBio Update

I failed Biology twice in college getting my bachelor's degree. I was an English major and not so good with science. I waited until my last semester in college to take the class. And I failed so couldn't graduate. Then I failed it again and didn't graduate again. My parents were beside themselves. I was really discouraged, but I also wasn't really trying (obviously). Maybe it was my way of halting my progression towards adulthood. I used to say, though, that I just couldn't make it meaningful to me. That the class was in a different language than the one I knew--- words like mitochondria, histology and phylum had no meaning to me and hence I could not learn them. Although this was partially an excuse for my laziness and well, okay, partying, there was some truth to it as well.

To some extent, I've reacted to technology in the same way. I am past my partying days and try not to be lazy anymore, but thinking about RSS Feeds, wikis and livestream (or whatever it is) used to make me break out into a cold sweat. They seemed like these abstract, complicated ideas that would take way too long to figure out much less implement. Learning about so many new technologies in two weeks has been a bit overwhelming, I won't lie. For the most part, though, I think I get most of what we've talked about. I can't promise that I will use it all, but knowing what is out there and understanding the possiblities connected to each of these technologies gives me great power upon entering the classroom.

In the last two weeks, I have: used a blog to contribute ideas and converse about education and technology in the classroom, used search engines OTHER THAN Google, participated in a webquest, collaboratively written an article on digital storytelling through a wiki, created a digital story, made a podcast, tried to make a chair on google Sketchup, and I'm sure a couple other things that I'm not thinking of right now. Only a couple of those things had I done ever before.

The technologies I will definitely use in my classroom are: digital stories, podcasts, screencasting, blogs, alternatives to Google. Adding just these elements to my classroom will make a big difference, I think, in the ways students construct, process, and retain their knowledge.

Most importantly, my ideas about writing and the nature of writing have been challenged. I now see the value in collaborating to write an article on ants as suggested in the textbook. Although I believe that creative writing is largely a solitary pursuit (until the editing process), there are ways to build and share knowledge with one another through writing. The Read/Write Web certainly encourages these types of collaborative learning opportunities. I will never throw away my tattered copy of David Copperfield, but I can certainly use the web to see how others interpret the story and share my own thoughts on Mr. Micawber and Uriah Heep.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chapter Nine: Coming to Terms

Last week I had coffee with my friend Ryan who I've mentioned in this blog before. I've been thinking about him a lot while I'm taking this class because he is a writer, a teacher and kind of a techie, too. Somehow, he has reconciled these traits and in him, they work. In speaking with him, I relayed to him my concern about technology getting in the way of our experiences and our stories. I gave him the example that I gave in my technology autobiography of the culminating moment in a college football game and everyone in the stands watching the field through the lens of a camera or camera phone--- experiencing this awesome moment through a camera! So, their memory of the event is going to be about getting the picture and NOT the CATCH!!! It was then that he told me Plato's story of King Thamus and Theuth. Theuth was an inventor type of guy who discovered numbers and astronomy and... writing! So, Theuth goes to Thamus to tell him of this amazing discovery that was a "potion for memory and for wisdom." King Thamus did not like this new idea of writing saying that "memory" or "knowledge" are internal and written characters are external. The ensuing knowledge from reading these characters then would not really become a part of the reader. I could talk about this story forever, but I'll stop myself now and try to connect it to the reading.

Things are changing... these shifts that Richardson describes are very real and they are a good thing! Students should be collaborating, building, conversing, reasoning. I love that I am entering the teaching field during a time where the teacher is more a facilitator and listener than lecturer. I love to talk, don't get me wrong. Eventually, though, I begin to bore even myself. As much as some of the technological expectations before me make me a little uncomfortable, most of them are great ways to engage and explore the curriculum.

When I think about the act of writing--- like putting pen to paper and expressing an idea through written characters- when I think of that as technology, as an advance of some kind, it helps me to see that change, although strange, can be life-changing opening doors of creativity that once were closed. Think about what our world would be like without written language! If this new writing, this new literacy, is anywhere near as powerful as old technologies like photography, sound recordings, and yes, writing, then we humans will certainly be better for it. As long as I don't pick up a copy of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" fifty years from now and see a bunch of ones and zeroes on the page, I'll be okay with it.

Here is a link to Plato's Phaedrus if anyone would like to read it.

(I can't get blogger to post a link... sorry. You'll have to copy and paste.)

Chapter Six: Overload

So, I have already acknowledged an innate distrust of technology. I feel like us humans get greedy and take things too far. Why do things have to move so fast? People keep talking about technology existing to help us do things quicker, but the fact is that the more technology that exists the less time we have because we're spending it all using all that new, flashy, fun stuff. It could be that this class with its teeny time span has packed a ton of techie talk in two weeks. The reality is, however, that at this point, I'm feeling like its all gotten out of hand. Chapter six put me over the edge. I cannot reconcile myself to Twitter and I will never use it in my classroom. My cell phone is never even on so I wouldn't get the texts anyway.

I'll be honest. The fact is, I don't really want to be a part of a collaborative online community. I want to play integral role in MY community, where I live. I want to have relationships with my garbage man, my mailman, the man two streets over who sat on his front porch every evening with his dog, Cici, but who now sits alone, my barista, my friends, my family. These are the people that I want to connect to most. They come first. I feel like if I did everything the author wants me to, I would live with some piece of electronic equipment glued to my face.

If technology can be used to enhance learning, community, content in my classroom, then I will use it. Right now, though, I'm feeling like what kids need more than a webquest is an outdoor quest where they are moving and sensing and exploring and connecting to something that doesn't run out of battery life. That's what I want anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ATTN: Principal

After hearing about Google Sketchup in an education class, I wanted to find out more about it. Apparently, its a drawing software that allows you to create three dimensional models on your computer. After creation, you may save them, post them online, share them via youtube, use them in presentations, etc...

I downloaded the software and decided that I would begin my Sketchup work by building a wooden chair. This seemed simple enough for a novice like myself to tackle. I watched two short tutorial videos and then began a disgruntling journey into the world of Sketchup. Admittedly, I have little spatial sense, but to be honest, I totally didn't get it. I did manage to create some shapes, but I'm still trying to figure out what happened to my chair. I can see how this software would be super valuable for the engineer, city planner or architect. If I saw some actual lesson plans using sketchup, with some directions as to how to create the 3d objects, I might change my mind. At this point, though, after struggling with an hour and coming up with nothing, I would say that Sketchup is not a necessary teaching tool for our elementary school classrooms at this time. I feel like with geometry at least, and the study of shapes, etc... building a three dimensional shape with one's hands would be more meaningful and illustrative than using a computer. I'm sure Sketchup has uses in the classroom, but right now, I'm a little lost as to how to implement the software in a way that would benefit my students.

Chapter Eight: Podcasting and the Importance of Audience

I think podcasting and screencasting may be my favorite thing I've learned in this class. The possibilities for its use in the classroom are so varied! In my house growing up, the spoken word was king. It's weird. Although there was television in my dad's childhood home, they must have listened to a lot of radio. We did during my childhood, too. I heard all kinds of audio recordings: comedy shows, Broadway shows, famous speeches. I have been able to recite Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech since I was like thirteen. It was just our thing. I am a big reader, but I think sound recordings relay things that words on a page just cannot do. Having students create writings- whether lab reports, poetry, historical narrative,- and then record, in their own voices that work, gives them a real sense of ownership and power over that recording. They will hear it and think, "That's me. That's my voice; that's my work." Along with being meaningful to students, it's also a great way to change things up in the classroom and provide some diversity in the way students are assessed.

As I read the text, I've noticed that over and over again Will Richardson broaches this subject of publication- that the Read/Write Web's power (or one of them) is its audience. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but I do feel like society is obsessed with having an audience and I'm wondering why. Are we obsessed with publishing our lives? With having an audience twenty-four/seven? And if we are, how did we get to this point? Having a voice and being heard is powerful. I will not deny that, but when did it become so important to reach so many? Why is there this need now to publicize the intimate details of our lives through blogging, facebook, podcasting... all of these technologies that allow us to reach a large audience. Why isn't it enough for our family and friends to know our stories? I'm trying to figure out if I think its a good thing that these technologies exist or not. Or rather, I'm trying to figure out if our abundant usage of these avenues of publication are really good for us- for our intellects, our hearts, our souls... Is obsessive self-documentation turning us all into egoists? And what exactly are we sacrificing in order to publish incessantly? Is it worth it?

Don't get me wrong. I think its great that more voices are being heard now. If you look through our history, those with money, power and prestige were most likely to get their messages to large audiences in the past. The Internet has moved us into an era where the little people have a stage, too. That's great. Do we always need a stage, though? I would say that those drawn to create something new, whether it is a piece of writing, a painting, a bookcase, etc... are not doing it for the audience. They create in order to move something from an intangible state to a material, physical one. They do it to get something out of themselves and into our world. That's been my experience with creation anyway. Creating isn't really about the audience, but about movement. The audience comes after the act. If we have people moved to create things because of audience, how does that change the things we are creating? If we constantly use this idea of audience to provide motivation for students to do good work, what else suffers? My instinct tells me that like any external motivator, the recognition factor will need to get larger and larger for the students to receive gratification from their work. For instance, let's say that in first grade, students are really excited because ten people have responded and left positive comments on a podcast they created for school. Well, after a year or so, ten comments will no longer be acceptable. They will need twenty or so comments to feel like they've done a good job. And on and on and on. Am I off base here?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A real blog at last?

I'm posting a link that my friend Ryan gave me. He's a poet, writer, philosopher and teacher. The link is:

It's about digital storytelling. In its "Resources" section, I read an article tonight called "Is Digital Storytelling a Movement." (I'm avoiding my midterm.) In it, the author talks about how accessible storytelling is now... that more people are telling their stories than ever. I'm wondering why. Is it the flashiness of this new medium? Is it easier to tell a story with words, pictures and music than it is with just words? How is digital storytelling different than our more traditional storytelling models? Is its popularity due to its newness?

Just thinkin'.

(Additional note: I found this article on the same site about digital stories in the classroom. It has some interesting thoughts from someone who has actually incorporated digital stories into his teaching.

Digital Story: Second draft

This is the final version I'm turning in for this project, but I will be making some changes on my own at a later time. Four days is hardly enough time for me to tell this story right.