Author: Ina L.

Thoughts from CUE 2013—What’s New in Technology for the Classroom?

Classroom TechnologyWhat’s new in technology for the classroom?  How does one find apps?  What is blended learning?  If you are actually looking for the answers to these questions, then you need to have attended the CUE conference last week.  The CUE Conference is the Computer- Using Educator’s yearly event held in Palm Springs, California.  There were close to 4000 attendees and at least that many apps to find out about.

With a theme of CUE to the Core, this very timely conference had all types of speakers, exhibitors, and attendees.  Teachers, coordinators, coaches, and principals were just a few of the folks I spoke with.  Technology is ever-changing and as so it is ever-fascinating.

Blended Learning made more than one appearance on the program.  This is something that we will see more of in the future.  This combines many types of learning on a computer and the Internet.

Interestingly, CSU Sacramento has a Digital Media minor.  The object is to teach college students skills and knowledge for use in the digital community.  What they are also trying to do with this is get those who want to teach to take this as a minor so they can infuse their teaching with technology.

Another huge topic was the Flipped Classroom. Should you or shouldn’t you?  The Flipped Classroom seems to have as many different takes as it has teachers.  For the most part, it makes the teacher serve as a coach since kids really do the follow up at home and come back with questions.  Very often they are watching a video at home.  Yes, there are also connectivity problems, but there seem to be ways around some of them.  What this allows for in the classroom is collaboration and critical thinking.  This is such a huge part of the CCSS that teachers–especially in upper grades–are really trying to use this (credit veronica at dhead online).  I also learned that a Flipped Classroom is asynchronous.  This is because it does not need to happen in face-to-face time.  There doesn’t need to be any human contact for this.  As a side note, synchronous and asynchronous are two words that I heard over and over again.

Attending a Google Slam, which was a really lively session with lots of good information, was a new but quite fun and enlightening experience for me.  Several Google certified teachers each got eight minutes to demonstrate some type of Google “goodie.”  The most fascinating one was the Google News Archive.  I really didn’t know it existed, but you can find all types of historical documents in just moments if you know how to search for them.  Another very cool thing that was shared was Google Art Projects.  This takes you on tours of over 180 art museums worldwide.  It’s still not a real field trip, but it does help kids who are never going to see some of this art.

CUE is an amazingly rich, technology-infused conference.  I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to amass a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time.


How are You Incorporating Academic Vocabulary?

I recently read an article about a spelling bee in the Giles County Public Schools in Tennessee.  The words used were all from the Tennessee Academic Vocabulary List. The winning word for third grade was wrestle, fourth grade was analogy, and fifth grade was illegal.

I had a friend who was observed in a classroom recently.  One of the comments he received was “use more academic vocabulary when explaining math lessons.”

I can’t pick up a paper or read a blog without seeing something about academic vocabulary.  It’s become ubiquitous.  It’s just everywhere.

I’m finding the emphasis on academic vocabulary fascinating.  Kids need to learn so much that it sometimes seems that this is being tacked on.  Yet, when you start to see the lists of words, they make real sense to me that they are being taught to children when they are young.

I’ve looked at various lists from around the country.  While they all vary a bit, they all include words that will give kids common knowledge.  These lists include words that are subject specific and words that are specific to things like following directions.  If we start with young children by teaching the words that are essential to making learning easier, we will be doing them a real service.

Are you using specific academic vocabulary with your students?  How are you making it interesting for kids?  Are you seeing any difference in your students understanding based on the use of academic vocabulary?

The Perpetual Pendulum: Nonfiction vs. Fiction Reading

Yes, we are all aware of how important reading nonfiction has become.  You can’t pick up a journal, read an article online, or look at the Common Core State Standards and not be made aware of this.

I love to read nonfiction.  There are so many fascinating books that fit that category.  Seabiscuit:  An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand was one of my favorites a few years ago.  It was a great read about an amazing horse.  Recently I read The American Plague:  The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby.  The story about this horrible disease drew me in.  I found it a real page-turner. In my book group I’m the one known for choosing nonfiction books.  But–and there is always a “but” isn’t there–here’s my concern.  Are we already letting that perpetual pendulum swing too far from fiction when it comes to the classroom?

Will kids take any joy out of reading if all they read is nonfiction?  You won’t get any argument from me that the skills that one uses in nonfiction reading carry over to everyday life.  Recipes, directions, street signs, nutrition labels, and the list of what we read daily goes on.  But how much joy is there in that?  Yes, the books I mentioned were wonderful, but they were narrative nonfiction and told a story.  They read like novels.  That’s not the case for much of the nonfiction reading that kids do.

I think we need to be careful with kids and allow them to read lots and lots of fiction.  Otherwise what happens to their imaginations and their capacity for dreaming?  Where will inspiration from fictional characters such as spunky girls and adventurous boys be found?  What about those who like, or even need, to escape into a book find their routes into them?  As good as nonfiction can be, it’s rather difficult to use it as escapism.

Can we find the right balance?  Can we teach the skills but give children the opportunity to be immersed in the world of fiction?  Can we not do what we so often do in education, throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

How are you tackling this dilemma?


Students and Online Research

So here I am doing some research for a new project.  I turn on my computer; start typing various key words into Google: and in just a very few minutes I have a raft of articles, video clips, and images ready to use.  It all seems so simple, but is it?  Collecting the information is, but knowing what to do with it, not so much.

I’m an adult who has been trained in how to use information that I find.  I scan it, and if it’s something that I might need to use at all I save it and reread it in depth.  I also need to be able to find creditable sources and cite them.  In school, this meant reading articles and books, taking notes on note cards and keeping a detailed bibliography.  It raises the question for me, do kids still do this?  Or has the Internet so changed things that they don’t’?

I know that people often say to me “the kids know more than me when it comes to technology.”  As far as using devices, I would tend to agree.  They can choose apps and download photos before I’ve pushed the “on” button.  However, I don’t think that they necessarily have the skills needed to make decisions about the material they’ll find on the Internet.  This is where I think teachers will always be necessary.  They need to guide young minds and help them learn how to think and make informed decisions.

We have a few books that I think really help teachers with this phenomenon.  Our Internet Literacy books address this directly with a section called “Researching Reliably.”  There are several lessons about determining the accuracy of the information found online.  You can help students by reminding them to use common sense and ask questions.  Students need to check evidence and find three sources that will back up what they have found.

Much like you might model how to set up your paper or how to work out a math problem, you need to model some of this researching for students.  While the kids might be able to fire up the computer, if all the information they collect is incorrect, it really won’t be much use to them further down the road in life.