Wednesday, May 16, 2007

First Real Test

Well, its been a few weeks now, but I finally had my first real test of planning and implementing a lesson using technology in the classroom. For my lesson I taught the students (fourth graders) how to use MS Excel to graph their data. We used their time for Hands on Math on a Friday to teach the lesson. Each student had their own laptop computer, although we did end up putting a few students at the desktops in the back of the classroom for different reasons. I used the computer at the front of the room which projects onto a screen which can be seen from anywhere in the classroom. The main goal of the lesson was to teach the students about the different parts of a graph and what type of graphs were good for different types of data. I also wanted to teach the students about using the graph function of Excel and some of the basic terms for using a spreadsheet application.

We started the lesson off by going over some of the basic terms that are used in spreadsheet applications. These terms included things like cell, row, column, function, and formula. I also showed the students how each cell was labeled and how to move around from cell to cell.

Next, I chose a research topic for them. I wanted to know what each of the students' favorite subjects was. We went around the room and each student told me what their favorite subject was. I recorded the results in a Notepad on the projected computer so that everyone could see the results. Then we talked about different types of graphs and which type was best suited to show the data we had just collected. There was a brief discussion regarding whether a pie or bar graph would be best, but the class eventually decided that a bar graph was the best choice.

Once we had decided on what we were going to do, the students had to learn how to make it. The first step was entering all of the data into the spreadsheet. After the students entered the data, I had them select the data and then click on the graph function. Then the students had to pick the bar graph from the choices on the menu. When the students clicked finished, we had a graph. Well, we had a very basic skeleton of a graph.

For the next few minutes we talked about different things that would make the graph more useful. These were things like a title, labels for the two axes, a scale, and a legend. After we talked about why each of these was useful, I showed the students how to insert these things into their graphs. Once each of the students had completed this part and the graphs had everything they needed to be useful resources, I showed the students how to edit things like the font and color. Although these were merely cosmetic changes, the students spent the most time on this part trying to make the graph look as nice as possible.

Throughout the entire lesson I walked around the classroom and helped any students who seemed to be having trouble. The students were first supposed to ask a neighbor if they didn't understand something and then ask one of the teachers if necessary. All of the students saved their graphs to the student network so that they could print them later. Many of the students spent extra time later in the day working on their graphs, and several of them went home and brought back graphs they had made on their own the next day. All in all it was a very successful lesson.

There were a few minor setbacks though. Some of the students had problems without having a mouse to move through the screens. Although the lab set has some USB mice, there aren't enough for the entire class. The other big technical issue I had was that two of the laptops died during the middle of the lesson. A smaller issue was that some of the toolbars had been edited so that functions I demonstrated to the students weren't visible on their screens. We only had an issue with two students not following directions and they ended up at a desktop at the back so that the assistant teacher could monitor them. The students whose batteries had died also ended up at the desktops

The only thing I would do differently when teaching this lesson is allowing more time so that the students could have a chance to create graphs of data they had collected. I think this would have given some of the students more motivation and also shown them how they could use the program for their own benefit.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tapped In

The Tapped-In website was an incredible resource over the course of the spring semester. For me, the biggest advantage of the Tapped-In resource was a large pool of mentors who had experienced many of the same things, that we as student teachers, were experiencing over the semester. These teachers could give us examples of how they dealt with similar situations, or advice, or point us in the direction of a vast number of resources. At one point in the semester, I went through all of the discussion boards and copied down all the links, and there were over ten pages of links that had been posted. Many of these were great resources, that I doubt we could have found on our own. The constant encouragement from our mentors was also greatly appreciated. Whenever one of us felt that we were never going to survive in the classroom, there were always plenty of positive voices coming from all across the world. Another advantage of the Tapped-In website was that the students could discuss how different situations were dealt with in their practicum classrooms. Many of these issues are important, but because of the WM scheduling, we had very little time in any of our education classes to discuss things that did not relate directly to the course material. It also gave us a perspective of what our classmates were doing in their practicum classrooms and their views on a number of subjects. Although it was incredibly useful, it did have a few disadvantages as well. Not everyone checked the site on a regular basis and often conversations would be repeated or go through long periods with no comment before being picked up again. Also, topics would be originated in different threads and you would either have to post in both of them to make the same point, or the people who only read one thread wouldn't get a true account of everyone's input. Overall though Tapped-In was a valuable resource and I think it would be beneficial for each school to have a forum for parents and teachers to discuss school matters.

Monday, April 23, 2007

s|u|b|j|e|c|t|s d|i|v|i|d|e|d or A CLASS UNITED?

845-1015 Language Arts
1015-1115 Social Studies
1245-145 Math
145-245 Science

Your class schedule may or may not look like this, but most classes seem to have this common theme: separation of the core subjects. This may seem like an odd question...but WHY? Isn't our goal as teachers to have students connect what they are learning in class and be able to apply it to real world situations? Unless I live in a different reality than everyone else, none of these core subjects sit by themselves. Don't believe me?'s an example: I am a linguistics major. I study different patterns in languages and how people interact with each other. Many of these interactions are based on social setting or historical reasons (social studies). When I analyze information from other languages and even English, I use statistics. I find patterns and I need math to do this. Then I need to explain why these things happen. That's where the science comes in. Whether it's where in the mouth sounds are being produced or forming an OT analysis, I need science. None of this is any good unless I can present it to my audience, which is typically just a professor or other students, but I still need to put my results into some sort of presentable summary, which is where language arts comes into play. I realize that not every job in the world uses all of the core subjects, but are we really helping our students when we separate them in the classroom as well?

Instead of making each of the core subjects stand alone, why not teach them together. Rather than spending so much time on language arts (which seems to have a much heavier focus than any of the other core subjects), why not relate LA to another subject for the day. For example if you are teaching prepositions in LA and electricity in science, have students write a response describing where in their school/room/house/etc. that they use electricity. Have the students describe where things are that use electricity. The students still get their writing on prepositions done, and they've linked it to the science lesson. The math lesson that day can also be connected to either electricity or to the prepositions. I believe that if we can link subjects and lessons together students will have a better time in understanding the material since a greater total amount of time will be spent on the material. Also, for students who generally struggle in a certain area they will have another subject to support their work. That is if a student who typically does well in language arts but struggles in science, will expectedly to better in a lesson that combines the two subjects together than in a lesson that solely focuses on science.

I realize that there are certain restrictions to this idea. School-mandated (or higher-up) curriculum and teaching teams who switch students for different subjects. I don't think we should totally ignore typical scheduling of the core subjects, however I do think we should try and connect subjects whenever possible. Rather than making each subject stand alone there should be plenty of connections for students to see so that they can form their own connections as they continue on in their education.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Own It!

All semester our professors have been continuously talking about the idea of ownership and how students need to own their learning in order for them to better understand the material. My first impression of this idea, was that is completely ridiculous. It simply didn't make any sense. As I heard more and more though, it made more sense and it seemed like it might actually be effective in the classroom. Now after being in the classroom for a few months and looking specifically for examples, I've seen it and that it does indeed work. Last Friday I did a science circus on electricity in my classroom. The two activities I designed had no real instructions. They simply had the required materials and told the students the desired results. This was a gamble, but I did have a reason for doing this. I wanted to see what the students knew and how they applied it to the activity. One of the activities was making a battery out of a lime, and even though none of the students could figure it out, they were able to draw on their previous knowledge and create some of their own in to deciding what things to try and what things not to. You could see that they had more of a desire to make it work, because it was their project, not something I had given to them with clear-cut instructions. So, owning science instruction...check.

Owning instruction in language arts is fairly simple. Even without trying this can be accomplished, in particular in writing. It is after all the students' writing. Students can own things reading too, as long as they have some choices in what it is that they are reading. Technology is another subject that seems fairly simple to have the students own. They create the power point presentations, or the Excel graphs, or the podcasts. It is their design and they can edit these how they please. Same with art, music, and physical education. It all, or at least most of it, belongs to them.

The rest of the day though, is not so simple. Math and social studies are not so easy for the students to own the instruction. How do you own a multiplication problem or a fraction? Sure, you can own individual problems that you create, but how can students own an idea which is an algorithm. In social studies students read and learn about the past. How can they own something that they didn't have a chance to influence. Sure, it effects them today, but how can students own facts about the Civil War or Ancient Egypt? I think that if we as teachers can find a way (and something tells me there are teachers out there who already have) for students to own their lessons in math and social studies along with all of their other subjects, that students will become more engaged in these lessons and hopefully learn more as a result.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tiny Ted's Trip to Yorktown

On Thursday, Tiny Ted went with my fourth grade class from Magruder Elementary to Yorktown, VA. Yorktown is where Lord Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. Trapped between American forces on land and French forces at sea, Cornwallis's troops were cut off from reinforcements and the supply line and had to surrender. Although the war lasted another year after the surrender, the defeat effectively ended the War.

Yorktown is a part of what is known as the Historic Triangle, which consists of Williamsburg , Jamestown, and Yorktown. Magruder Elementary is located in Williamsburg.

Tiny Ted, Ian, Kavron, and DeMarcus showing the size of the army tents during the war. Most tents housed around six soldiers, although only half of the troops would be in the tent at any one time.

Ashley and Tiny Ted in the generals' tent looking at important war documents.

Baleigh and Tiny Ted with a set of medical equipment from the 18th century.

Tiny Ted and Anthony at one of the signs posted by female patriots outside the camp. Although women were not allowed to fight (although there are a few accounts of women who did), they did their share to support the war. Many worked as nurses and did chores around the camps, while others ran family farms and business while the men were out in combat.

Jasmine, in a Revolutionary soldier's outfit, with Tiny Ted and her mom.

Tobacco was the largest cash crop in Colonial Virginia. The class is in a tobacco house where the tobacco leaves are hung to dry before being packaged and sent to Europe.

Brittany and Tiny Ted posing next to a quote from Benjamin Franklin on the Revolutionary time line.

To raise money for the cost of the French & Indian War, King George III heavily taxed the colonists. One of the most important taxes was the Stamp Act, which required almost all paper products to be taxed. Playing cards were doubly taxed since gambling was illegal. The King assumed that the colonists were gambling anyway, so he made the tax on playing cards double to raise more money. Here, Keyera and Tiny Ted play with a reduplication of a set of playing cards that have been stamped.

James and Tiny Ted sit next to Patrick Henry's famous quote "give me liberty or give me death" on the time line.

Jeremy and Tiny Ted show the rest of the class one of the typical chores that children would do on a colonial farm. They are breaking flax so that it can be made into linen. Breaking the flax is the first step after the flax has been harvested.

Tiny Ted sitting with Cade and Mr . Michaels on the way back to school.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On the Spot

On Friday, I had my first real test as a developing teacher. I was left in the classroom for about forty-five minutes, alone with twenty-some fourth graders, with no lesson plan and no idea when the teacher would be back. My first thought was to find the lesson plan, which is normally on the teacher's desk, and continue on to the next part of the day. Too bad for me, the lesson plan was nowhere in sight. It wasn't on either of her desks, my desk, or the assistant teacher's desk. The only thing I had to go by was what was written on the white board "Interactive Science Notes." I've been in this class for only about two months, and that's only a few times a week. I have no idea what that means. Next step, ask the students. They don't have that great of an idea either. Alright, time for Plan C or D, or whatever I'm down to now. For the next thirty minutes or so I led a class discussion about the different types of energy. This is what the students had been learning that week, so it was a nice review. It was also an eye-opening experience for what we are always told will happen....things will go wrong, and you'll have to think on your feet. I think I made it through the first test OK, but in the future I hope to be more prepared to have a creative idea in my head beforehand, just in case....

Monday, February 26, 2007

Are School Days Long Enough?

When I was surfing the web the other day and saw an article regarding the length of the school day. Some schools in the Northeast were experimenting with a longer school day. I can see some advantages and disadvantages to that.

Advantages: more time for teachers to cover material that isn't on the test, more time for resources that have been replaced so students can pass standardized tests (art, music, physical education, etc), younger children are home alone for shorter periods of time or do not need a babysitter or after school program

Disadvantages: teachers have to work longer hours, students are in the classroom for even longer periods, more expensive per student (approx $1200 a student a year)

I'm sure I could think of more, but I'm not feeling great and just wanted to post something about this before I forgot about it.

Is lengthening the school day a reasonable solution for some of the problems that our educational system faces? Or would it just increase the problems that we are already faced with and possibly create even more?