Category Archives: reflection

Podcast #4 – Online Learning vs. The Traditional Classroom

Listen to Podcast #4


As a traditional 8th grade SS teacher by day and an online graduate student by night, I have first hand experience in the ongoing debate of online classes vs. traditional classes.  I have been convinced that online education is the way to go, and then I live, see, and experience the benefits of traditional classes and I’m back on the fence again.  For the sake of discussion, I see a lot of value in both, and I think more than anything it depends on the student and how they lean.  With a great teacher, a traditional classroom for most students is irreplaceable.

Obviously, there is a lot of value in online education.  Online classes provide a unique opportunity that traditional classes do not.  For example, students can access the material at any time.  In online environments, students can work more at their own pace and have much more time to accomplish various tasks.  Various learning styles can be incorporated into the online curriculum so that many students can be successful at the same activity because they are allowed to demonstrate what they learned in a variety of different ways.  The activities have to be student-centered in online learning.  Also, since students are accessing materials using their own computer more often than not resources are not an issue when teaching and learning.  Students can collaborate in unique ways that are more closely related to 21st century workforce skills.  Students can communicate in ways that are more similar to the communication skills needed to succeed in an ever-connected world.

However, even with all of the pedagogical benefits of online learning, as a current classroom teacher I see and experience so many non-educational benefits of the traditional classroom that I have yet to experience as a student in online environments.  Traditional classrooms – with good teachers – instill students with passion, interests, relationship skills, and a host of other attributes that students need in order to be contributors to our society.  I consider these skills and emotions to be a part of the hidden curriculum of traditional education.  For example, teachers teach students to be organized, confident, passionate, compassionate, etc. or at least we try to.  You would be hard pressed to find those skills taught in just about online environment.

Not too mention, students learn to communicate face to face.  They learn how to read one another and know how to respond and act.  They learn how to troubleshoot social situations.  In traditional classrooms, students learn to cope, prioritize, organize, and succeed.  Sure they can experience some of these things in online environments, but it’s not the same.  Seeing a teacher show how proud they are of a student is not as meaningful as reading comments in an online grade book.  Working with other students face to face and physically getting your hands dirty in a chemistry lab is not the same as simulating a lab in a Google Hangout. 

You see online learning does have a long lasting and much needed place in education.  Students benefit greatly in online learning environments and they need to learn those skills, but nothing will be able to replace the intangibles learned in the classroom. 

WordPress – Why It’s More than Just Web 2.0

Ever since my college days, I have been an avid user of WordPress.  Some might say I am a WordPress fanboy.  I currently host my personal blog on WordPress (the one you are reading).  Trust me…any avid reader of my blog knows that I have experimented with multiple hosting solutions for this blog, but I always come back to WordPress.  It’s the best solution out there in my opinion.

In addition to my own personal use, I have been using WordPress at my school for the past 3 years.  About 3 years ago, a colleague – who I have seemed to mention a lot lately – came to me about the idea of using WordPress Mu to host our school website and provide websites to teachers and students.  Prior to that conversation, my colleague and I recently attended NCTIES and listened to @samandjt give a talk about how he had launched WordPress Mu at his school and his teachers, students, and parents were reaping the benefits.  Needless to say, when @mrscienceteach approached me about piloting WordPress Mu at our school, I was hooked.

Since WordPress Mu was incredibly successful, WordPress Mu is no longer a separate WordPress project and they dropped the Mu.  The same process is now referred to as Multisite or MS.  I believe that WordPress is one of the many tools (like most other blogging platforms) that students should have a basic of understanding of by the time they leave school.  In the past, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were the three main tools we taught students, but now teachers should be showing their students multiple creative tools such as WordPress to help students showcase what they have learned and how they have applied it.

At my school, we currently use WordPress as a our homepage as well as for teacher websites.  Of course, there are a few teachers who are resistant to WordPress and continue to use other website tools like SchoolNotes, but those that have bought in love it.  The Multisite or Network Admin feature allows me the ability to troubleshoot any problems that may arise for any teacher as well as post any upcoming news, major events, or announcements that our community needs to know.  The troubleshooting feature takes the fear away from teachers trying new things within WordPress without the fear of breaking it since I am there to help.

However, the part that I love the most is the collaboration component of WordPress.  With the ability to embed videos, pictures, polls, etc. into WordPress posts and pages, students can access tons of information without ever leaving my website.  For most of my posts and pages, I allow students to comment on the items I have posted creating a threaded discussion about whatever we are learning in class.  Commenting on my website has allowed me, as a teacher, to see the different stages of learning for my students and catch their “ah-ha” moments when they are discussing whatever I have posted related to class.  We have a geometry teacher who is using WordPress as a discussion board to work through theorems.  We have other teachers holding discussions on civic and government issues.  Other teachers use the commenting features as a way for students to ask questions.

Off and on for the past 2 years, we have dabbled with the idea of WordPress portfolios for student work.  While the portfolio aspect of WordPress has died down due to teacher turnover recently, the portfolio concept is not something I’m giving up on just yet.  The key to the portfolios is to have the students create a WordPress blog during their 6th grade year as a place to share, comment, and archive their work throughout the year.  Then when they move onto 7th and 8th grade, they continue to use the blog creating a portfolio of their work over the course of their middle school experience.  The portfolio component of WordPress is a great way for students, parents, and teachers to see the evolution of learning as the students moved from 6th grade to 8th grade.  At the end of the 8th grade year, if students want to keep their portfolio going, we can export the file and put it on a flash drive for them.  Then they can create their own WordPress blog and upload the file to keep their portfolio going into high school.

All in all, I think WordPress is one of the best tools out there that a school can utilize to enhance communication, improve website layout, create teacher websites, and create students portfolios.  It’s time for schools to begin looking past the flashy web 2.0 tools like Glogster and Prezi and begin to use tools like WordPress and Edmodo that improve the community and greater good of school.  Sure Glogster and Prezi are cool and useful, but in reality, they are showy presentation tools that do not do much more than that.  If schools begin using innovative tools that incorporate collaboration, scaffolding, communication, presentation, etc., students will be much more equipped to succeed outside of our classrooms both digitally and personally.

Podcast #3 – Digital Citizenship Defined by #edchat

Listen to Podcast #3


For my third podcast, I thought I would incorporate my latest blogpost regarding #edchat and discuss one of the recent #edchats I participated in called “Digital Citizenship.”  The question posed for the October 2nd, 7:00 pm #edchat was “How do we define good Digital Citizenship, and what are specific things teachers can do to support that outcome for students?”  Obviously, this is a topic that prominently emerged within the last 5 years.  The concept of digital citizenship has been around for a while, but in the past, teachers and schools combatted the issue by simply not letting students online.  However, as we have slowly seen the advantages of using online tools in the classroom, we have started to scale back the filters.  With that scale back comes the responsibility of teaching and protecting our students about online use and their own digital footprint.

With the push in Internet Safety among our students in part due to the 21st Century Act that was passed recently, our teachers are tasked with teaching students what good “Digital Citizenship” looks like.  One of the problems raised over and over again in this week’s #edchat was that teachers are not sure what Digital Citizenship really is or how they teach good digital citizenship.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s a fairly new concept for most teachers because it just came down the pipe a few years ago. 

Many of the participants were concerned that “digital citizenship” was going to become one of those words like “meaningful learning” and “connected educator” that is poorly defined even though we now consider both of those to be essential staples in today’s classroom.  Even though digital citizenship remains poorly defined, teachers also have to combat the fact that their idea of digital citizenship can be different from someone else’s idea of digital citizenship.  Just like everything else that emerges within education, teachers have to figure out the best way to fit “digital citizenship” into their classroom curriculum.  The law says it has to be taught, but how it is taught and the best way to teach it is up to the teacher.

After tweeting out the concerns surrounding the definition of digital citizenship and the concerns about teaching the concept to students, the conversation shifted to setting parameters for the term.  Most people agreed that digital citizenship meant leaving a strong, positive, contributing digital footprint.  Teachers need to help students see that what they do online never disappears, and that is completely okay if students are positively contributing to whatever online environment they are participating in.  However, even with the groundwork laid, teachers continued to offer up extended definitions of digital citizenship related to cyber bullying, filtering, facebook, twitter, etc.

Finally, mixed throughout the entire #edchat conversation were suggestions of specific things that teachers can do to help our students meet the outcome of what we defined as digital citizenship.  Almost every contributor offered up some sort of variation of modeling.  Modeling is long lasting and time-tested strategy that works well for most students.  Teachers model a certain behavior and students mimic or follow that model thus meeting the teacher’s expectations.  One teacher noted that teachers who participate in #edchat and contribute in a positive manner on twitter instead of gossiping are modeling good digital citizenship.  One of the foremost experts on all things tech, @web20classrom Steven Anderson, tweeted that “Digital Citizenship/Ethics are normally stand alone lessons and activities when they should be woven into the curriculum. “ 

With that being said, I would agree with my colleague, Steven Anderson, that students should be taught this concept by working it into our everyday lesson plans.  Digital citizenship is a huge component of the 21st century curriculum and one that all teachers need to begin to embrace.  No matter how you define it, digital citizenship is here to stay.

#edchat and How I’m Better For It

I have been teaching for almost 4 years now, and throughout those past 4 years, I have become actively involved in the educational twitterverse and learned a lot from the many hashtag conversations happening on twitter regarding education.  I am constantly scrolling through my timeline that consists of some pretty prominent educators that are constantly sharing ideas, thoughts, lesson plans, blogposts, etc.  The educators that I follow include classroom teachers, instructional technologists, administrators, policy makers, professors, students, etc.  All of these people provide valuable insight to me as an 8th grade Social Studies teacher.  Sure I’m gone through my ups and downs on twitter…sometimes I can’t get enough and sometimes I don’t check it for days.  However, nothing (including professional development, meetings, mentors, etc.) has done more for me as a teacher than the people I interact with on twitter on a regular basis.

One of my colleagues (@mrscienceteach) suggested that I get involved with twitter because it had really helped him grow as a professional.  I had already signed up for twitter in the past, and I had dabbled in twitter before it really blew up, but I wasn’t convinced of it’s place in society let alone in education so I gave up. @mrscienceteach suggested that I join the online twitter conversation of #edchat to help me see the value of twitter for educators.

#edchat is probably best explained here and here, but in a nutshell, it’s a set time where a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of educational stakeholders meet to discuss a chosen topic voted on by #edchat participants.  I have learned so much while participating in various #edchats throughout the past 3 and 1/2 years.  My thinking has been challenged and accepted.  My thoughts and ideas have been shared, critiqued, and improved upon.  I was even approached by Edutopia to write a guest column on an #edchat topic that I participated in.  You can read it here.

It’s a great space for anyone with a vested interested in education to join a positive and thoughtful conversation with like-minded people.  The catch — as we are always challenged by the moderators at the end to do — is to make sure you go and do something about whatever we discussed during #edchat.  The point of #edchat is not for these great ideas to solely thrive and live in cyberspace, but we are supposed to take what we learn and act.  All participants are challenged to make a difference and being a catalyst for change in their own schools, districts, or learning environment.

Join the conversation…#edchat

A Flipped Classroom (podcast)

Listen to my podcast created for my ECI 512 Emerging Technologies for 21st Century Teaching and Learning graduate class.

Transcript below:

Just this past year in my 8th grade Social Studies classroom I have started to “flip” my classroom.  For the past year or so, my teammate has been flipping her math classes and has had amazing success so far.  She finally convinced me to give it a shot once I began teaching U.S. History.

For those of you who don’t know, flipping classroom, as defined by flipping pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman, is an instructional strategy where the students watch the lecture at home and completed related assignments, labs, projects, etc. in class.  More than anything, flipped classroom is about the meaningful learning activities that replace lectures in the classroom and less about the videos themselves.  Throughout much of their research, Sams and Bergman have written over and over that flipped classroom is a combination of direct instruction and constructivism that allows students to receive instruction at home and spend class time practicing and exploring the content to better understand what they learned.  The whole idea being that students spend more quality instructional time learning in class with the teacher.

So you are probably wondering how does this fit into emerging technologies, well it doesn’t necessarily, but flipping the classroom does fit very well into the idea of emerging 21st century learning ideals and strategies.  I chose to flip my classroom for a number of reasons, but I’ve paired down the list to 4 according to how they relate to 21st century learning.

  1. Students can work at their own pace – Within a 21st century learning environment, students should be able to dictate their own learning pace.  Flipped classroom allows students to do just that.  After teachers create the videos, students have watched them, and the class has completed the activities, students can go back and watch the videos for review or clarity.
  2. Teachers can easily create individualized instruction – In today’s classroom, all instruction should be individualized and customized to the needs to every child.  As a teacher, I know how difficult that can be.  Flipped classroom doesn’t make that 100% possible, but it does make it much easier as I am freed up to meet with students or small groups during a class period.
  3. The learning is centered around the student – One ideal that has been around since the beginning of time is that learning should be centered around the student.  A 21st century classroom only reinforces that ideal.
  4. Transparent classroom and increased use of online tools – While technology is the not the focus of a flipped classroom, it does force teachers to create a more transparent classroom and increase their use of online tools with students.

I’m the first to admit that flipping is not for everyone.  In fact it took me a couple of years and a classroom switch to see the value of it in my classroom.  However, one of the most important practices for teachers in a 21st century learning environment is a teacher’s need for reflection in order to better themselves as a professional.  In article written by Mary Beth Hertz on entitled “The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con,” Hertz writes that “as long as educators are constantly reflecting and asking themselves if what they are doing is truly something different or just a different way of doing the same things they’ve always done, there is hope that some of Dewey’s philosophies [of student centered learning] will again permeate our schools.”