Monday, December 31, 2007

Tools Are Important (but they're still just tools)

In April the VSS 2008 Annual Spring Conference - Learning: Anyone, Anytime, AnywhereVSS conference is happening in Vancouver and I was pumped about a session that I wanted to do with my colleague, Jodie. I went to the conference last year for the first time and I found it to be wonderful Pro-D and a great networking opportunity.

What Jodie and I wanted to present on were a bunch of cool Google applications that we stumbled upon this summer during our self-directed Pro-D. One of them, Google Docs, is a great little fairly basic on-line word processing tool. What makes it impressive is that multiple users can work on the same document at the same time and go back and view edits that have been made. It could be a very useful tool if you have students collaborating together on a project, or if you are collaborating with a peer (as Jodie and I have done).Google

We also discovered Google Calendar, which we have used with great success. You can do a whole lot of cool things with Google Calendar such as allowing others to subscribe to your calendar or you can post your calendar(s) to web pages. For example, check out the calendar on our grade 10 web page. We have been using the calendars to post deadlines and other important dates. Students and their parents have been finding the calendars quite useful. After these two great finds, I decided to check out More Google Products. From here I discovered Google Notebook, Blogger, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Reader, and much more.

So, basking in our Google Glow, Jodie and I thought we should definitely present on this at the VSS conference. But now I'm having second thoughts. Don't get me wrong, I love these Google apps. I use Notebook everyday, I have almost committed to switching all of my personal e-mail over to Gmail, I rely on Google Calendar (for school and home), the first thing I look at when I log onto iGoogle is Google Reader, and I entered the blogosphere using Blogger. (Wow, I hadn't realized how thoroughly entrenched I have become in using all things Google until just now!) So here's the thing; they're just tools. And there are other tools out there that do similar things. I don't know if I should be giving a presentation on tools. Especially since that's what it will be, a presentation. Not a hands on workshop. Just me and Jodie telling and showing. I have no doubt that people would come to a presentation on these particular tools, but how much of an impact will we make?

I'd still like to present at the VSS conference. And it is a Google tool that will be the inspiration (not quite the right term) for my presentation. What I'd like to present on is blogging. Not on how to get your students to blog--I haven't done that yet. No, on blogging as being central to an educator's professional development. I only really started blogging at the end of November, 2007. In the period of just over one month I've been exposed to so many fabulous ideas that have really impacted me as an educator. I'd like to expose the blogless to the thrills of conversing in the blogosphere.

What do you think; Blogging as a key part of an educator's pro-d, or should I just stick with the tool talk?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Switch to Edublogs

After joining the blogosphere in November '07 on Blogger, I've decided to make the switch to edublogs. My previous blog, Claire's World, was started when I decided I wanted to see what blogging was all about. Now I feel that I know what the focus for my blog is, I thought I'd try edublog. Blogger was a good place to start, but I feel that a WordPress powered blog might offer me more flexibility in the design of my blog. We'll see how it goes. My new blog name, Clarify Me, reflects my focus on clarifying my thinking on using technology to make education more relevant to my students, and to help foster communication and collaboration.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Technology Plan For My School

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to improve student learning at the Distributed Learning (DL) school where I teach. Jeff Utecht's series of posts on developing a tech plan have really clarified my thinking on this. This is my current 'wish list' for my school:
  • provide all 8 - 10 students with lap tops (currently we provide computers for most 8 - 10s, but laptops only to those students who will be traveling.)
  • offer more 'mini courses' to 8 - 10s on specific web 2.0 topics--eg a mini-course on blogging where the students come to our school with their laptops to learn with each other how to set up and effectively use a blog.
  • Improve our school website so that it becomes the effective portal that Jeff Utech discusses in his tech plan series.
  • Move to a single Learning Management System (LMS)--currently we use Moodle, Web CT and we have paper based courses. I would like to see us move to something like Moodle (though I need to learn much more about it to fully understand all that it can offer). I'm leaning toward Moodle because it is free open source software and from what I've seen so far it does a pretty good job.
  • Educate our students' parents about the web 2.0 tools that we are using with their kids so that have less fear about their kids being on-line. Perhaps a series of workshops, or invitations to parents to attend and participate in the 'mini courses' that I mentioned earlier.
  • Student Information System? Is ours working? Can it work better (I think so)?
I'm sure I'll add more to my list in the coming weeks, but this is a start at least.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Time to catch my breath.

Well, it has been almost 2 months since I joined the blogosphere, and what a ride! The past month I have been exploring blogs (see my rapidly expanding 'Blogs I read' list) and joining in on some pretty interesting conversations in relation to education and web 2.0. It's been keeping me so busy that I haven't had much time to post to my own blog! My goals are
- to find a way to make learning more relevant to my distributed learning students
- to explore how to help students become technologically literate so that they can operate successfully in the 21st century.

With respect to my first goal, one of the difficulties I am having is that I do not have a very large group of students in any one grade. I have 3 to 6 students who are active in any one class so coming up with a project specific to a class may not be very fruitful unless I can link up with more students.

With respect to my second goal, I'm thinking more and more that I would like to start doing some mini-units for students (and interested parents) on using blogs, wikis, etc in education to get them interested in using some of these applications in their learning.

As always, I am interested in suggestions or comments that you might have.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

edublog Awards

Voting for the edublog awards is on right now. I know I'll be checking out the nominees to see what's worth reading out there. One blog I found there sent me to a way cool site with lots of free science video clips. I found out that apparently rats like to be tickled--who knew? If you check out the nominated blogs and find something that catches your fancy, please write me a quick comment to share the news.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Blogging; In Their Own Words

This is a great little video for educators. Teachers and students describe how blogging can enhance learning. Some interesting strategies for using blogs are described (I like the class scribes) and there are some wonderful discussions from the students on the benefits of blogging. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your comments on the video.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="400" height="326" wmode="transparent" /]

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Google Analytics

After reading DSWaters' Blog 'Advice On Being A More Effective Blogger' I decided to install Google analytics. For a more detailed description of what it is and does, check out her blog. But basically it gives you stats on how many people are visiting your blog, how they found you and how far they went into your blog. Cool stuff. I'm just hoping that I'm not the only one who's checking out my blog!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Boosting Collaboration

I have been participating in the knowWeeks course for 4 days now, and I cannot believe the amount of collaboration that's going on--all through blogs! My big task now, is to come up with a way of using blogging with my students.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Using Blogs in Education

In an effort to get a better handle on blogging and how I might use blogs as a teacher, I'm taking a knowWeeks course called 'Using Blogs in Education'. My goal is to see how I could use blogs in a distributed learning (DL) environment for high school science and math courses. I could see blogs helping my students in many ways:
1. By replying to each other's posts they would be getting the peer to peer interaction that can be difficult to achieve in a DL environment.
2. It would give them a place to work on a deeper understanding of the topics they are learning about by giving them a forum to work out their ideas.
3. It would help them to work on their metacognition (is that the right term?) -- thinking about how they think.

I'll be interested to see the blogs of the other participants in this course to see what their ideas are.