Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How do You do Digital Math?

             I have found and shared out many ways that teachers can use technology in a 1:1 environment.   I have shown ways that just about every teacher in every subject area could go paperless except for one.  I have tweeted and written blog posts for help to find resources and ideas to for this one subject area and have gotten pretty much next to nothing in return.  The subject I am referring to is math. 

            For ELA, Reading, Social Studies, Science, Art, Foreign Language, and Music we can use many programs and webtools.  Students can type papers, do research on the web, read books online, create presentations and interactive photos, find pictures, make infographics, create scripts and direct there very own videos on multiple topics, they can even let Google pronounce and define words for them.  The possibilities to teach, learn, research, and present all of these subjects are endless without ever passing out one sheet of paper. 

            Now lets get back to the math.  How do you work out a good old multi-step math problem without good old-fashioned paper and pencil?  I know students can watch good instruction from a teacher made video or from Khan Academy.  Students can do some drill work by playing a math game online, which is great for reinforcement.  They could even create an avatar or a movie with a script in which two characters explaining the steps of a math problem.  But my big question still is, how do realistically have students show their work for big math problems such as long division or multi digit multiplication on a tablet or computer.  And if you have a way, is it easier and quicker for the teacher and students than just using a pencil and paper?

            I want to win over my math teachers, but this is one of my biggest obstacles if not the biggest.  Again, I know there are ways to incorporate technology, but not as often as the other subjects.  Math gets the short end of the stick and it is not as fun as the other subjects because of the limits of the technology.  All students do not have wireless slates they could use to show work for a math problem.  Does anyone have some great ideas, tools, or methods out there that hey would be willing to share that work?  If so, please share with me.  

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Live Radio Show!

            I have been interviewed before as a football coach where they took sound bytes and video clips for the local news, but I have never been on a live radio show.  Well, this week I have been asked to be on a local, live radio show where they will be discussing three themes regarding the digital age.  In order to get my thoughts rolling, I wanted to create this blog post around those themes.

 The first theme is what I believe the school’s role is in teaching appropriate technology and media use?  I believe the school’s role should be what it always has been.  Technology didn’t and should not have changed what is appropriate and what is not.  When students have written papers before the digital age, we had them do research, find information about their topic, put their findings in their own words, and cite or give credit for any quotations and resources they used.  A works cited page has always been a part of any type of formal writing assignment or research paper.  The same is still expected today.  Just like teaching students how to cite sources, schools are responsible for teaching students how to find photos that are not copyrighted, how to cite sources and quotes from the web, how to determine what websites are credible resources, how to stay safe online, and how to keep their digital footprints clean.

            The second theme is how should schools deal with the issue of texting and technology distraction in the classroom?  Again, these issues deal with behaviors that have always existed.  Technology did not change these behaviors; it only changed the method in which they are carried out.  For example, before the digital age, students in my day wrote and passed notes.  Instead of writing these notes with pencil and paper, the message is now a text.  How did schools deal with note writing before?  I would say that whatever the consequence was for the note writing crime should be the same for texting. 

            As far as technology itself being a distraction, well I believe that before the digital age, students were distracted.  I taught for 18 years before becoming an eLearning Coach without much technology in my room and students still found ways to be distracted from the content that I was teaching.  A student being distracted in the classroom is not a new concept that has transpired because of technology.  So, I go back to, what did we do with students that were distracted before we put netbooks in their hands?  Whatever the punishment was for breaking that rule, it should then be the same for distractions with technology.  I would also like to say, that I have observed many classrooms as an eLearning coach.  The teachers that utilize the technology and expect the students to use it on a daily basis have fewer distraction problems than those teachers that only use it once in a while.   

            The third theme is what should the role of parents be with the new technology?  Well, as a parent of a freshman and a fifth grader myself, it has definitely helped me to step up to the plate and be the parent I should be with or without the technology.  My daughters are using the Internet and social media multiple times throughout the evenings.  I want to know their passwords for social media, and I also ask them to use the tablet and laptop in our common room where my wife and I can spot check them once in a while.  I would do this if they were playing outside.  When they were younger I would stand out with them as they played to be sure they didn’t wander out into the street.  Now that they are older, it is the same principle.  I am just making sure they don’t wander into the digital street where they could get hurt.  I don’t see technology as being a negative thing.  It has kept me on my toes and keeps my interest level in my children up, which is where it should be in the first place.  Don’t ever let your children go behind closed doors for hours at a time and let them get online.  It is not a matter of trust; it is a matter of being a parent and being responsible.  Your children will realize that you care about them and you are interested in what they are doing even if they do not act like it at the time.

            Here is my bottom line statement.  Technology has not changed students' behaviors; it has only changed the method in which they carry out the behaviors.  The things that are happening are no different than before the digital world if you really examine it. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Going 1:1? Don’t Forget to Include Support

           Today’s teachers are overwhelmed more than ever.  In the last week, I have met with teachers at four different schools.  They are all under very high stress situations.  This week happens to be our ISTEP or standardized test week in Indiana.  This is the high pressure, have to pass, have to show growth, and have to do well on test.  The reason is, if your students do not do well on this test, then you must be a bad teacher and your contract may not be renewed, right?  At least that is what the teachers are led to believe.

            Teachers all year long are forever giving tests of measurement/progress like writing prompts, Acuity A, Acuity B, and PARCC.  These tests are given multiple times before the ISTEP to provide data that is supposed to show where all of your students stand.  Teachers are expected to “Dive Into the Data” and see which standards need to be covered most in order for students to become more proficient in those standards. 

In elementary schools we are talking about classes of 25 to 30 covering multiple subjects.  So that could turn out to be 90 sets of data that has to be studied.  For middle school teachers, that could mean four classes of 30 students.  That is 120 sets of data that has to be inspected.  We are still not done.  Each of these tests, like I said, is given multiple times a year.  So take that 90 and the 120 and multiply them by at least 3.  That means about the time you finish with one data set, it is time to test again and start over.  On top of that, teachers must prepare lessons that cover all of the standards, take attendance and lunch count, handle discipline problems, contact parents, differentiate their instruction, grade papers, attend staff meetings, plan field trips, and be in charge of many extra curricular activities.  And I am certain that I left out some things that teachers do each and every day.  None of this includes their own children or personal lives.

            Ok, where am I going with all of this?  What does what I have discussed so far have to do with the title of my article?  Well, in my school district, which has gone to 1:1 in the middle and high schools has put together a team of people that is called ICATS/eLearning coaches.  They are the support staff that goes out to the schools and provides professional development for the teachers.  They show and help teachers with everything from turning on the device to webtools they can utilize with their students to digital citizenship to trouble shooting problems.  We cover a wide area of assistance for the building administrators, teachers, parents and students. 

            Teachers tell me each week, “I am so glad you come in to show us this stuff, otherwise we would not be able to do it.”  I asked them why and they said, that with everything else, “There simply is not enough time to try and figure this stuff out on our own.”  They tell me that what I can tell them in a 30 to 40 minute training session would have taken them hours and hours to figure out and they still would not be able to do it as well as what I taught or modeled for them. 

Mr. Adam Bellow
            So the bottom line is, if your district is planning on going 1:1, make sure you have a staff such as our ICATS/eLearning Coaches to support your teachers.  Otherwise the technology will be out there, but it will not get utilized and under some circumstances, it won’t even get used at all for lack of knowledge of how to use it.  I went to an FETC presentation that was led by Adam Bellow a year or two ago.  He preached that continuous professional development must be provided for teachers.  New tools come out every week.  Technology changes everyday.  There is not a way that any teacher is going to “Know it all.”   He said that if we do not provide this PD, then the technology will get put on the back burner and this is what it will become.  He then showed a picture that he swears was not doctored, of an overhead projector being projected on a Promethean Board. 

I honestly believe if the support staff is not in place to bring new ideas and how-to, to the teachers, then for most of them, it will NOT happen.  With the stress and pressure teachers are under to test, look at data, differentiate instruction, and start over again, they simply do not have the time and energy to do it all.  Plus, like Mr. Bellow said, technology constantly changes.  Teachers will never “know it all.”  Once a football team wins a Super Bowl, they don’t get rid of their coach, stop practicing and inventing new plays because they cannot get any better.  They have to come back the next year and continue learning and being coached to keep that edge.  We as educators want to keep our edge as well.  We want to be on top of our game to help keep students motivated, engaged, and excited about learning.  Lets make learning something that is irresistible.