Tech tools to check out this summer.

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Today is the last day of school. Graduation was last night.

My grades are done and submitted, my classroom is cleaned and organized, and everything is packed up for the summer. Now what?

Well, I'm still thinking about what I want to change for next year (see the two posts below this one) and deciding what new tech tools to play with this summer and see how they can help improve teaching and learning in my classroom.

Here's my list:
  • Glogster
  • Introduce Twitter to my students (I use it, but thinking of using it as a CRS or backchannel).
  • More student blogging.
  • Student website in AP Physics where they will create the site as their own study guide and resource for the year. Then, each year other classes will add and modify it.
  • More Discovery Education resources.
  • Edmodo
  • Thinkfinity
  • Use more NASA resources in my Physics classes

I also have some other responsibilities this summer:
I teach an EMT Class and Paramedic Class.
I am on the committee to change the EMS-Instructor curriculum for Connecticut.
I am a new member of the DEN Leadership Council for Connecticut.
Keep up with my TL Advisor blogs for Tech&Learning magazine.

I also need to relax and recharge for next year.

What tech tools are you thinking of investigating to use next year?

Related Posts:

What I learned this year.

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I just replied to a question Shelly Blake-Plock posted on his blog, Teach Paperless, "What did you learn this year?". (His blog is really good, check it out).

Here is my list of some of the things I learned this year:

1. Twitter is a great tool for educators.
2. My Personal Learning Network has taught me too many things to list.
3. Students will continue to surprise me (in great ways)
4. Politicians and some administrators will never "get it"
5. That I saved a ton of money in my classroom (and working to do it in rest of building/district) by using open source /free resources and cutting down on paper use.
6. That I need to take a breath before dealing with classroom management issues when I'm already tired or cranky.
7. That my students are awesome (already knew that - but it's nice to see it every year!)
8. That I still love being an educator

What did you learn this year? Post it here or over at Teach Paperless.

Reflecting on the Past School Year (And preparing for next year)

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I'm done with my school year. I have all seniors and they finished their finals yesterday. Graduation is on the 17th and the 18th is the last day of school. As I sit here having finished all my grades, I start to reflect on the past year. What worked? What went right? What went wrong? How did I handle classroom management issues? How well did my students learn? Lots of questions to answer and get ready for next year. I do this throughout the year too, but this is the point where I can really plan and make changes for the following year.

One thing I do to as an evaluation of the year is to have my students fill out a survey about the class and their experience. It asks them to rate things such as was the classroom and equipment (labs and projects) adequate, was enough time given for demonstrations and review, how well did the teacher answer student questions, and their thoughts on assignments and work given. It also asks about me: did I set a climate that was conducive to learning, did I effectively communicate with students, did I address their needs and issues, and were the teaching methods effective. I also have space for them to write comments about what they liked about the class and what they think should be improved. They can put their name on it or it can be anonymous.

I do take the surveys with a grain of salt. Some students write all "4" (highest score) and some complain that everything was too hard. But I do get a lot of great feedback and ideas. Some times I am surprised by the level of sophistication that I my students have and how insightful they are about their classes. (I've also used this model with pre-service teachers).

After I've read through all of the surveys and taken notes, I sit and think about the whole year. I try to be critical of things so that I can really evaluate how things went. I am going to implement some of the things I've come up with and some of the things my students noted, but I am also going to keep my lessons flexible so that I can modify them once I've met my students next year and see what they are like and what they need. I believe in constantly assessing how I am doing as an educator and how well my students are learning and changing and modifying things as needed throughout the year. The end of the year and summer are great times to come up with lots of different ideas so that I have a collection of ideas to use next year.

Ongoing Assessment is a term we use in EMS for constantly monitoring our patient and changing our treatment as needed based on the patient. This is also something we do in education. We change things to meet the needs of our students.

Next year I'm going to utilize the classroom blogs and Google Forms to get more feedback from the students throughout the year. I'm also looking at different ways to assess their learning more often, and have a toolbox of ideas and lessons to use when I have to change things up or modify things.

As I write this, I keep having thoughts about issues I've had and how to change them next year. I'm also thinking about the type of teacher I am and what I can do to improve my attitude and persona to make me better. I think one of the things I'm going to do this summer is watch a few movies about teachers (Lean on Me, Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver) for motivation, and keep active with my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to share ideas, thoughts, and resources. I want to come back to school next year enthusiastic, motivated, and ready to have some fun while educating. I want to make sure I am ready to be the best educator I can be. The only way to do that is to be prepared and constantly evaluate the teaching and learning in my classroom and modifying it as needed.

How do you evaluate teaching and learning in your classroom? What do you do at the end of the year and summer to prep for the next year?

Why do we go to school?

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In my last class of the school year with the 5th grade public school students with whom I've been doing philosophy this year, we held a "Philosophy Cafe" with juice, cookies and conversation. I'm going to miss this class.

The students had requested last time that we spend some time discussing whether homework is a good thing. We started the discussion more broadly by reading a chapter of Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery that raises questions about the purposes of education generally. I asked the students why they believed they were expected to go to school, and they responded that they thought it was "to learn," "so that we can have a better life," "so that we learn what we need to know in life" and "to get a job." They also mentioned that they want to be in school to spend time with their friends.

I asked the students what a school that they could create would be like. 

One student replied, "I think this school is as good as it gets. If you made it any more fun, we wouldn't learn as much. But if it was less fun, we wouldn't want to be here.  It's actually perfect because we have fun and it's interesting and we learn a lot."

"Yeah, we're actually really lucky because school is much more interesting than it used to be when my parents went to school. We have time to read and do projects and teachers really try to make it interesting."

"School isn't meant to be joyous and fun. It's meant to teach us what we need to know for life."

"I disagree with that. I think that school does have to be fun, because if kids aren't having fun they don't pay attention and don't learn as much."

We talked for a little while about the connections between having fun and learning, and then the discussion moved into the purpose of homework, about which the students felt quite strongly.

"The purpose of homework is to keep us thinking about what we've learned so that the teachers doesn't have to teach it over and over."

"I agree. It kind of gets everyone to be on the same level, so if you didn't understand something so well in class, the homework helps you learn it better. If one person doesn't do the homework they get behind and it wastes everyone else's time."

"I don't agree with that. I don't think we'd forget what we've learned in one day. I think homework makes learning harder, because you never want to do the homework and you start not wanting to learn at all."

"Homework should be done at school. We have 7½ hours of school every day. We come home and we don't want any more school for the day."

"You know, we actually have a lot less homework than many kids in schools in other countries."

"But it does get in the way. After school you want to do fun stuff with your friends or at home, or play sports, and then you think, 'Oh yeah, I still have to do my homework.' "

"And you're distracted because you want to do fun things. So you sit there and look at the homework and think about what else you could be doing, and so it takes a long time to do the homework, and you have even less time for what you want to do."

"Learning in school is fun because we all do it together. At home it isn't any fun to do work by yourself."

"But I think you learn things in school and then homework is so you can practice what you've learned over and over."

"I don't think that really works. I mean, we don't forget what we've learned in a day. And having to practice it after a long day in school just makes us less interested in learning."

"Well, I think that homework does get in the way of other things you want to do after school, but the idea is that you do sometimes forget what you've learned or you haven't learned it totally, and you look at the homework and you figure out how to do it and then you really learn it. No one likes it every day, and when you're doing it sometimes you hate it, but you know there's a good reason for it."

"Maybe if we didn't have it every day it would be better."

This nice exchange among a dozen students (which involved me almost not at all) then led to an exploration of some practical solutions. Should there be time at the end of the school day (say, the last 20 minutes) for the students to do their homework if they chose? Should it be every other night instead of every night? Should it be handed out in advance for the week so that the students could manage when to do it? 

One student noted that he would like to do his homework at recess (if the homework isn't done the class rule is that the students must stay in at recess to do it), but his mom wouldn't let him. Another student responded that he was allowed to do homework whenever he wanted and to figure out how to make it work for himself. The school day was about to end, but we did have a brief interesting discussion about the responsibilities of parents to let their children figure things out for themselves, and how to make good judgments as a parent about when and how to do that.

As I was leaving several girls told me that they wanted to be philosophers when they grew up. A side-benefit of this work, perhaps? More women in philosophy? That would be a great thing!

This will be my last blog post until the fall, to allow me to work on some other writing projects over the summer. Happy summer!

Dropbox - file sync, backup, and sharing

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Dropbox is a service that allows you to sync your files on your computer with their system as a backup. This also allows you to access the files anywhere. You can also sync the files across multiple computers. This means that you have automatic backup of your files and 24/7 access to your files. I have it set up to sync a folder on my home computer and school computer so I don't have to worry about having multiple versions or forgetting a flash drive.

There are also Dropbox apps for iPhone, Android, iPad and there is one coming for Blackberry. There is an independent app for Palm webOS, but you can also access the mobile site from any web-enabled phone. Imagine being able to access all of your files on your smartphone!

You can also share files with others. I teach EMS classes (EMT and Paramedic) and the course coordinator shares files on it with instructors through one folder and students in another folder. It makes things very easy for all of us.

Plans are as follows:
Basic - 2GB - Free
Pro50 - 50GB - $9.99 / month or $99 per year
Pro100 - 100GB - $19.99 / month or $199 per year

Dropbox is a great service for teachers and students. Access to all of your files anywhere, backup of your files, and the ability to share files.

UPDATE: One feature that is very nice is the fact that it works with network drives like we use in my district. Some of the other cloud file storage and sync systems can't work with network drives. I was very happy to see this was able to be done with Dropbox.

Related article:
"Cloud File Storage, Sync, Backup" (features similar services to Dropbox)

UPDATE: is another online file storage, sync, and backup service that I just learned about an it also offers a 2GB free account. I haven't used it, but it seems to work the same as the others.

When You Reach Me

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When You Reach Me, a young adult novel that was a winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal, was written by Rebecca Stead. Set in New York City in the late 1970s, it's an engrossing story about a young girl, her relationships with her friends, her single mother and her mother's boyfriend, and a mystery. 

Miranda is in the sixth grade when she begins to receive a series of notes that indicate knowledge about Miranda's life that is seemingly impossible for anyone to have. Miranda's attempts to understand why she is receiving these notes and what they mean are beautifully illustrated through Miranda's interior monologues about growing up on the upper west side of Manhattan in 1979 and the trials and joys of sixth grade.

The story raises philosophical questions about the nature of time, the nature of friendship, courage and trust,  and the meaning of life and death. It would be a marvelous book to read along with a middle-school-aged child (I read it along with my twelve-year-old son) or to read to a class of upper elementary school students. I couldn't put it down!