Try going anywhere urban and see if you can find someone without a smartphone or connected device of some kind. Virtually impossible in today’s wired(less) world. This holds true for schools as well. Both staff and student alike connected 24/7. This holds both potential and pitfalls for our education system.
Student information systems have been a part of everyday life for school staff for well over 20 years now. With this the presence of computers in the classroom has become a must. Teachers are required to input attendance daily and marks on an ongoing basis. Administrative staff use the system daily to adjust schedules, lookup demographic info, schedule courses, etc. Our reliance on computers has taken hold in some classrooms with teachers adopting connected tech to engage students.
Fast forward to 2016 and smartphones are a reality in every classroom (to varying degrees depending on socio-economic circumstances). What are we doing to harness the potential devices walking into our classrooms each and every day? Is there a sign on the door claiming no phones allowed? Is there a bucket at the front of the class where phones are deposited? Are students encouraged to record homework using Evernote or OneNote? Are apps like Remind being used to keep students on top of upcoming assignments? Is Google translator being used to help students understand a new language? Are videos being created to demo dissections in a biology class?
From my experience the reality is all of the above. Yes there are still the classrooms where devices are taboo and must be kept out of site but there are those classrooms that fully utilize the potential of these powerful portable computers. As an educator with a distinct bias towards use of technology to enhance both teaching and learning I cringe every time a device is handed to me after being confiscated. Students have a responsibility to ensure they are being responsible in their use of smartphones by not texting or snapchatting during class but we as educators also must recognize that these devices are here to stay and we can either resist or realize the Borg were right all along.
A new year is rapidly approaching and with it comes renewed hope and promise. Teachers in British Columbia face a tremendous challenge against an employer with a drastically different view of public education. British Columbia teachers are amongst the highest qualified educators in the world and our voices are being muffled amongst the chatter of educational pundits and policy makers. Converting a proud educational tradition in this province to a clone of failed foreign educational agendas is what is in store if the provincial government is successful in achieving its radical educational reform agenda. How else can you explain a new Teachers’ Council and Education Plan being announced and legislated while teachers are on strike? How can an educational plan be put into effect without the support of teachers? By changing the educational profession as we know it is how.
What do I wish for 2012? I wish for teachers voices to be heard. I wish for a fully funded public education system that meets the needs of every student and puts students first. I wish for an employer that sets aside rhetoric and comes to the table with more than a vacuum cleaner waiting to remove items from our contract. I wish for a teachers’ union that understands the magnitude of the battle we are in and takes every step possible in ensuring the membership is informed and on side. I wish for an education plan that stops using buzz words and gets down to practical implementation of educational reform and puts money into the equation. I wish for a collectively bargained solution to the current job action and not legislation imposed by a hostile government.
2012 promises to be a year like no other in BC public education. Either we move forward and truly make public education a priority or we move towards the complete transformation of public education into a semi-private system. Perhaps this is what the Mayans were referring to.
Assessment for learning has become a hot topic amongst educators across the globe. Having assessment inform your practice and influence how, what and when you teach certain topics is the fundamental piece behind AFL. Constructive feedback used to inform students of areas in which they can improve allows a student to engage in meaningful learning with the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding at a later time. One shot tests with no time for reflection or evaluation of areas for improvement don’t move learning forward.
But how many of us are trained to assess? Think back to your teacher training and think about the time spent developing a ‘good’ test or fair form of assessment? If my experience is any indication the time spent learning how to assess was minimal at best. How then do we expect teachers to be able to jump into a pressure cooker profession and learn the tricks of the trade while at the same time being fair evaluators of their students understanding? Only after a teacher has spent a fair amount of time in the profession, lets say more than 5 years in a consistent position, will they be in a position to evaluate their place and role in the educational landscape. I am in my 15th year of teaching and am just coming to grips with my failures as a teacher and areas I need to improve upon based upon a new level of comfort and understanding.
How do we speed this cycle so it doesn’t require a teacher going through the bad before they understand the good? Is it the role of faculties of education to ensure pre-teachers are given the tools needed to be solid judges of student learning? Is it the role of sponsor teachers to drill the benefits of AFL into their student teacher’s heads? Is it the role of school boards to run workshops prior to hiring teachers to ensure an even playing field of understanding? The answer is never simple and probably lies somewhere amongst all these possibilities but one truth remains, the insanity of assessment will continue to isolate, educate and assimilate teachers everywhere.
Creating a class blog is one thing… maintaining one and making it relevant for your students is a totally different challenge. Here are 5 ways to ease yourself and your students into the world of class blogs:
1. Post information relevant to the students – Seems obvious but if the students don’t have a reason to visit your site, they won’t. Post information pertaining to homework, assignments, quizzes and tests to get them into the habit of visiting the site. Throw a few sample questions online to entice the more motivated students to visit and they will help to bring the rest of the class along. Attaching notes and worksheets is also a great way to encourage students to visit your site.
2. Videos – Multimedia is a powerful tool, just look at YouTube. By posting video content on your blog you provide more than just a static, text-based experience. Short video clips on certain topics can be assigned for pre-viewing and used as discussion starters in class.
3. Discussion boards – This one can be tricky depending upon your school boards online policies but a great way to encourage out-of-class interaction and participation. If you use WordPress a great discussion plugin is Simple Press. An example of how I have used it is having students submit a project proposal on the discussion board instead of on paper in class. I then went in and commenting on each proposal and provided links to relevant information to guide the students. You need to use this more than once to make it effective and worth the effort to set up.
4. School Calendar – Not what you were expecting? Having basic information about upcoming school events is a reason for students and parents to visit your site. Include information relevant to your subject area, like significant events on this day in history, to add a little extra kick to your calendar and make it stand-out from the one on the school website.
5. Recap of Lessons – This one I saved for last because it requires consistency and patience. In order for a site to stay relevant it must change every day with new content and information. One way to do this is to write short recaps or summaries of what went on in class that day. This also helps to keep students that have missed class informed and removes the excuse of not being there from their repertoire. If you are really organizing you can post information on upcoming lessons and give those students that visit the site an edge in class.