Learning As An Active Process

Learning As An Active Process

Part two of my quote series.

Grade 2 Make New Friends

Grade 2 have been working on biographies but they are also studying about people from around the world. So in ICT class, I had small groups study a child from another country. We had four groups per class that first researched and answered questions about their new friend that they were studying. Then they made a slideshow from the findings. They narrated the slideshow and uploaded it to Vimeo. Here is one of the first videos that was completed. To see the rest, follow this link.

Tech Integration VS Tech Classes

Currently I teach at a school where we have dedicated technology lessons for all students from kindergarten through to Grade 7. Each class gets 40 minutes a week in a lab with a technology teacher, me!I know of other schools that address technology the same way. Some schools have this approach and I guess it’s down to the schools philosophy on education as well as it’s philosophy on technology as to how technology is used in and out of the classroom.

Another way to approach technology, that I see a lot of the leading institutions now doing, is to give every student a laptop. Running a 1:1 programs means students have their own computer that is used by students not only at school, but also at home. A lot of these schools see technology as a tool for learning and as a result, don’t have any specific technology lessons. The technology is embedded and integrated into the curriculum and used when appropriate. They employ technology coaches to help the teachers implement this across the curriculum. I see this is a much more meaningful way to use technology. But it is not without flaw.

I believe in using technology as a tool, but I think the stand alone classes are great at making sure that all students are receiving access to technology, no matter their homeroom/subject teachers ability with technology or what technology they have at home. With a 100% integration model, the students use is limited to their teachers willingness to use technology. You could argue that time should be mandated for each class to use technology, or say that each class must do at least one project incorporating technology per unit of work. And I’m sure that some schools do place expectations on how much technology should be used, but this would go against the ‘technology as a tool’ philosophy. It would be used for the sake of it, which I don’t think is how it should be approached.

I can see other positive aspects of standalone technology lessons too. One would be that the same (hopefully correct) message is being expressed to all students about technology or it’s use. Be it about Copyright or being a responsible online citizen or how to organize your email account. All students are actually taught these concepts explicitly so a student can’t simply ‘slip through the cracks’ and not get the important lessons on technology and it’s use.

On the other hand, the benefits I see of an integration approach is that with the use of a coach to guide the teachers learning, teachers are developing their own ability instead of ignoring technology and passing on that responsibility to the person teaching the stand alone class. With an integration approach, technology needs to be taught by all teachers and therefore needs to be used by all teachers. At least used enough to meet their professional responsibilities. Some teachers might take this freedom and run with it, developing outstanding, interactive, engaging lessons that incorporate technology. Some might do the bare minimum. But at the end of the day, the teacher is learning along with the students. And with the integration approach, the technology is being used as a tool, not a subject, which I think is the most important aspect.

In weighing up these pros and cons, I don’t think any one approach is ‘correct’, it is simply a different approach. There are upsides and downsides to both models. I think the model that needs to be chosen comes down to how the school sees technology and it’s educational vision.

Ideally, I see a combination of both models as the best approach. An integration model where students and teachers use technology as a tool and are guided by a tech coach. There is a shared responsibility with all teachers to embed technology into the curriculum. As well as some time with a specialty technology teacher touching on responsible online citizenship, organization, how to make their workflow more productive, etc.

Obviously this is my opinion at this point in my career, I’m very excited to see if it will change in the future and what experiences will make me change my mind. The future seems bright!

3 Essential Tools I Use To Monitor And Maintain My Computer

Owning a Mac, I find I have to do very little maintenance to my machine. It runs well majority of the time and only slows down when I have had it on for weeks or have 15 applications opened at once. However, I still find it important to monitor my computer to make sure it’s running at an optimal level. These are the tools I use to monitor and maintain my computer.

 

iStat Pro

iStat Pro is a free widget that is installed into your dashboard. It helps monitor your system so you know what is happening on your computer. The features include:

  • CPU usage – to monitor how much your processor is being used as a percentage.
  • Memory usage – this is great as it can usually help you determine why your computer is running slowly. If the graph is completely blocked out in a single colour, it means you need to reset your computer to free up some memory, or use FreeMemory (see below) to help you out with that one.
  • Disk Capacity – you can see how much space you have used and how much space you have free for any disk you have attached such as your computers hard drive, an external hard drive, a network drive, a USB drive, etc. I try to make sure I stay under 80-85% capacity on any drive I use to help prevent crashes and keep my computer running fast. Whenever a drive gets full, it significantly decreases it’s speed.
  • Temperatures – you can monitor the temperature of any part of your computer. If you have your laptop on a soft surface, it may block the fans at the back of the computer and make the computer very hot. This is not good for the computer so this section allows you to monitor the heat of any part of your computer and act accordingly.
  • Fans – I don’t monitor this section very much, but this can also help you understand why your computer is loud or heating up.
  • Battery – this helps you determine your battery health (how much of the original capacity of your battery that it can now be charged to), cycles (how many times your battery has been charged when it has reached below 50% capacity), charge percentage and remaining time before it’s empty. To keep your battery healthy, make sure you fully charge it, then fully drain till it shuts down and full charge it again at least once a month. I set a pop up reminder in iCal and have it pop up once a month to remind me to do this.
  • Uptime – this is one section I use a lot. I rarely turn my computer off (looking at my uptime now it’s up to 22 days), because I usually just close my laptops lid to put it to sleep. This allows me to start up my computer quickly from it’s sleep and my machine seems to run well doing this. However, when my computer is running slow, chances are it’s because it has been on for too long. To correct this problem I have to restart my machine to free up some memory and make my machine run fast again.
  • Processes – these are the applications that are running and how much CPU power or memory they are consuming. You can see what applications are really stretching your computers performance or see whether all of those applications being open at once really effect your machine.

I find iStat Pro invaluable for monitoring my computers performance. A quick peak at it usually tells me why my computer is not performing at it’s optimal level and I can act accordingly.

 

FreeMemory

FreeMemory is a free Mac OSX app store download. That means it can be accessed from the app store that is on your Mac desktop or Mac laptop. This is not to be confused with the iTunes app store. The OSX app store helps you download a range of software to your computer, even iWorks (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) can be downloaded in the OSX app store so it’s very convenient. However, the apps are generally fairly expensive. FreeMemory is one exception to this rule. It works the same as the memory usage section of iStat Pro but it displays your memory usage in your menu bar all the time. So if your computer is running slow, a quick glance to your menu bar can help determine the problem. The app also helps you clear memory, but that feature takes a long time to complete. To clear the memory fast and more effectively just restart your computer. But for monitoring your memory usage in real time, it works great.

 

 

Broom

Broom is a great app from the same makers of FreeMemory that allows your find and delete large files on your computer. It only cost 99 cents US and is a cinch to use. It helps you locate files in three sections, Places, Folders and Files. The Places section is handy because it searches your caches, logs, trash and downloads folder and tells you how much space each of these sections are taking up. You’d be surprised how many files end up in the caches and logs sections! To delete them, just select the section you want to delete and click the ‘Remove Selected’ button at the bottom of the app, couldn’t be easier!

In the Files and Folders sections, it makes a list of all of the files and folders on your computer and how big they are, so you can sort them by size order and see which files are really taking up a lot of space.

 

These are just some of the tools I use regularly to maintain and monitor my machine. Do you also use these tools? Are there any that you use regularly? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Finding A Problem and Solving It

After watching the TEDx talk below by Dan Meyer, I was inspired to try something like it in my class.

But I didn’t know what problem we could work on. I wanted the problem to be meaningful to the students. I wanted them to come up with a problem to solve and I think I knew the answer. In one of my classes, one of my students was looking through a pile of old yearbooks. She found on of when she was in Grade 1 and we had a chuckle at how cute the now teenagers looked when they were young. Then we started seeing some people we knew but no longer go to the school. We counted how many students that attended the school that were still enrolled now they were in Grade 8. There were only about six students… Six students! My student found this fascinating and asked me how many I thought would be left at the end of Grade 12. This gave me an idea…

I developed a unit where the students would follow this same process of seeing how many students are in the class that also attended in Grade 1. Then from graphing the results and looking at past data, they could estimate how many of them would be left in a couple of years time. All of the data will be really easy to attain by simply flicking through some past yearbooks. I think my students will really enjoy this unit and I can’t wait to teach it!

Are Standards Needed If Technology Is Used As A Tool?

In 1998 the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) released National Education Technology (NET) standards “for the purpose of leveraging the use of technology in K-12 education to enable students to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital society.” Today the standards are widely accepted as the benchmark for educational technology. There are standards for students, teachers, administrators, coaches and computer science educators, which makes them very broad and encompassing. These standards are excellent for when you have a stand alone model of technology education, much the same as at my current school. I see every class from kindergarten to grade seven for their own technology lesson once a week. In this session, I can spend time creating learning experiences for my students that help them meet the NET standards. However, what happens if your school has an integration approach to technology education? Maybe your school has a coach and that person works with teachers to integrate technology into the class. So who is responsibility for the NET standards in a circumstance like that? Is it all the teachers of a specific grade? Is it the coaches role to make sure each class is meeting the standards?

A Swiss Army Knife, like a computer is a versatile tool for many applications. So should it have it's own learning standards? Or should we use this tool to helps us meet other goals?

To answer these questions, I think you have to think about the school and it’s philosophy regarding technology. If technology is seen as a set of skills that each student must learn before they progress onto the more complex skills, with each skill requiring the previous to succeed and progress, then I guess you will need to rely on a detailed map of where, how and when each skills is taught. This could be compared to a senior Mathematics class, you can’t learn algebra if you don’t know basic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This style of addressing technology education is much more suited to stand alone technology lessons as there is one teacher that is responsible for the teaching of the skills and standards. The problem I find with this model is that modern computer skills are rarely the type of ‘build upon’ skills that they used to be. Sometimes you need to know how to use a mouse and keyboard, but sometimes you don’t. You may have a trackpad or a touch screen device which makes the mouse lessons taught earlier on irrelevant. The same thing applies to software. One example is keyboard shortcuts, what you learn in one piece of software may not work in another. And these two examples, hardware and software, are constantly changing. Skills we learn are usually stand alone, or need to be modified significantly to be transferred over into other applications. Or these skills change with a new software update or the integration of a new tool. So I believe teaching specific ‘skills’ and not seeing technology as a tool make the use of technology irrelevant to the 21st century learner.

If, like many schools, technology is expect to be integrated and used as something to supplement lessons and the curriculum, then chances are you have a tech coach that helps teachers develop learning experiences that incorporate technology into their classrooms. Some would say this person should be responsible for students meeting the NET standards. However, I think if your philosophy is that technology is used as a tool, then possibly the idea of technology standards needs to be rethought. We don’t have curricular for other tools we use at school such as pencils, base ten blocks, books, etc. We use those tools to help us help the students meet other standards. Isn’t technology supposed to be a tool that we use to help students learn content in other areas of the education? Just because it is an expensive, sometimes daunting tool, highly sophisticated tool, doesn’t mean it should have it’s own curriculum does it? Or am I way off?

What are your thoughts, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Knowledge

Memory

At the start of the year one of the Grade 12 students took it upon herself to pin up motivational, inspirational or funny quotes in the stairwell to inspire her peers and teachers. I loved reading them and gave the stairwell a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, the student moved overseas, so the school councilor took it upon himself to keep up the tradition of the stairwell quotes. He noticed my interest in the quotes, so asked me if I would like to contribute. This is just one of fives quotes I will share over the new few weeks. If you like it and would like to use it, click the picture and it will take you to Twitter, where you should be able to download the full sized version.

Student Led Conferences In The KJS Lab

Today was student led conferences. Excitement was in the air as enthusiastic students led their parents, siblings and even some grandparents around the school showing them where they learn and play. Last year we decided to have laptops in each classroom so that students could show the digital pieces of their portfolio. This worked OK, but with computers in every room it made it hard for me to be at all places at once to help support students and teachers. Plus I didn’t really get to meet many parents. This year the classroom teachers suggested that the students bring their parents to the KJS computer lab and they show their work there. I liked this idea as all specialist that had digital pieces to show could be in once place, I would hopefully get a chance to meet more parents and the students could show their parents where their ICT classes take place.

In the end I liked it better having students come to the KJS lab, despite it being so busy in the morning during the first few sessions. If we do it again like this next year, we will have to make sure we have a better schedules so that we don’t have so many people in the lab all at once. Also, as most of the digital pieces were movies loaded from Vimeo, the network tended to slow right down when there were a lot of people accessing their pieces. I guess a better schedule would also help to stop this from happening. In the end though, I think what the students and parents go out of the day was a great experiences. Lots of smiles and proud face on not just parents and grandparents but also students. It’s great to see the students so confident and happy to share the work they do everyday with their family.

Some parents and students didn’t get time to see all of their digital pieces of work, so I encourage you to access it from home. Visit www.isshlearners.weebly.com to have access to the KJS homepage, with links to all of the tools and sites the students use in class. On this site is a section for each grade. If you click it then click the first link, ‘Student Led Conference 2012’, you have access to most of the ICT, Japanese Culture and Music classes pieces of work for the portfolios. If you can’t navigate to the work, check the URL’s in the portfolios and type them in manually. If you are still having trouble, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll see if I can help.

I hope all of the students enjoyed the experience of bringing their parents to the computer lab and I hope that all of the parents were impressed by how savvy their children are. If you have any feedback at all from SLC, please leave a comment below.

Original Compositions By The ‘Remix Generation’

In most situations in life, I think it’s always important to know and understand the rules before you go ahead and break them. This is especially important in music. Before you can make that cutting edge track, you must first know why the basics work and have been so popular. So in one of my Grade 4 class, my students listened to, studied and deconstructed the song, ‘Hella Good’ by No Doubt. An amazingly effective song (try not nodding your head when you listen to it), but so simple in it’s structure and composition in the same vein as ‘Billy Jean‘.

 

After we listened to the song, how it starts, the basic layers of the song, etc. We noticed a simple pattern. The students had already seen this pattern happen over and over again in new song and songs of the past. So we set out to create our own track, based on these simple but effective practices.

The students opened Garageband and laid down a kick drum track. Some went for a simple 4/4 beat while some went for a little bit more of a Hip Hop style. After this, they added their snare track. Then some cymbals. Then some type of percussion ‘flair’ like a hand clap, rim shot, a big crash, etc. This was hard for the students, as they wanted to add EVERYTHING to every track they made. As a result, the songs sounded very cluttered and over the top. So we came back to our example, ‘Hella Good’ and had another listen. The space between the percussion is what really makes this song so effective, so they went back and recomposed their percussion.

After they had a solid percussion arrangement, they went ahead and added some melody. This is where I crashed and burned as a teacher. I have absolutely no musical experience or background, so I could not teach them to play a melody. But almost all of the students play an instrument and can read music so they managed to lay down some interesting melodies with synths or pianos or horn sections.

I then showed them how to add voice recordings and how to manipulate them. They had a field day with this, singing and speaking into the computer mic, manipulating it to sound distorted, high pitched, low pitched, etc. They had a lot of fun!

After this they were just about finished. Except their song didn’t last very long and were very repetitive. We had another listen to ‘Hella Good’ to see how they added an intro and outro to their track. They noticed No Doubt slowly built up the song so that it didn’t start straight into the chorus. So they worked on structuring their songs to make them more interesting, to build up and down.

When they had finished, they surprised me and I think they even surprised themselves at how great their songs were. They created their own original composition, without the use of loops or copying other peoples music or ideas. I am extremely proud of them and their work. It just goes to show, the ‘remix generation’ can actually develop their own original work too. If Grade 4 students can do it, anyone can.

The Relationship Between Piracy and Sales

I just started a unit with my G5 classes on Copyright and Creative Commons. We always have vigorous discussion on the issue and it’s interesting to hear my students point of view. As there are a lot of numbers that get thrown around when talking about Copyright, Copyright infringement and piracy, I thought it would be a good idea to find an infographic for us to discuss as a class. I stumbled across this inforgraphic title, “The Sky Is Rising” by Tech Dirt (if it’s too small, click it to enlarge).

It’s very interesting to see that despite the entertainment industry really showing their disdain for piracy (see SOPA et al.), and claiming such large losses as a result, they aren’t doing too bad with digital sales. And as Peter Nowak seems to suggest, piracy and legal sales seem to have a very interesting relationship. In his article “The counterintuitive truth about piracy and profits“, Nowak lists the most pirated movies of all time.

 

“Leading the list (of most pirated films) were Avatar, The Dark Knight and Transformers, all of which were mega-hits in theatres.”

 

It’s interesting to hear that some of the most pirated movies also did very well at the box office and on DVD sales. Now I’m all for Copyright and giving the original artist the credit and the money they deserve, but with figures like these, does piracy really have the negative impact we are made to believe? Are movies suffering at the box office and in DVD sales, or are popular movies at cinemas equally as popular as illegal downloads? I’ll be very interest in seeing what conclusions my students draw from these statistics, I have a feeling it works in favor of a lot of their arguments already.