Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's like a phone... but with video

Welcome to the future. Our class participated in a video conference with the Royal Tyrell Museum last week and in a word, it was amazing. The conference was seamlessly put together and incorporated multiple teaching techniques that were both age appropriate and engaging. There was a surprising amount of potential given that (beyond the fancy technology) it's still basically a teacher standing in front of a class and presenting the material. As someone who prides myself on being educated on the pros of technology I have to say that I'm slightly disappointed in myself for not realizing how powerful this tool can be.

Speaking of powerful tools, http://www.teachingdegree.org/2009/06/30/50-awesome-ways-to-use-skype-in-the-classroom/ showed me that Skype isn't just for awkward chatting with old friends/family. Everything from guest lectures (especially useful in smaller communities) to helping a classmate at home (yikes, there goes the idea of a "sick day"!) this website outlines some "awesome" ways to integrate skype into the classroom.

The skype integration idea that intrigued me the most was http://www.epals.com/. When I saw this site I could not stop imagining the life changing potential that this program has. Friends can be created across continents, students can hear a foreign language they are studying first hand, and cultures can be explored at the personal level.  Instead of students learning that Turkish culture is X, Y & Z, they can learn from students their own age and hear what living in Turkey really means. And conversely, students in Canada become more aware of their own cultural identity while gaining some perspective on how fortunate we are to live where we do. I look forward to using it in my own classroom someday.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Creating Savvy Students

The internet is a scary place full of predators and viruses but it is also a magical place with double rainbows and every book ever written. It is the single most valuable resource for both teachers and students. This makes web awareness not only useful but essential for children growing up in a digital world. The internet threats to students are both personal (web safety and marketing) and academic (authenticity and copyrights) making it an important issue to tackle in the classroom. We as teachers must go beyond preaching against the evils of the internet and avoid simply reciting frightening facts. Teachers must provide tools, or at least provide the steps to create the tools, necessary for students to exist autonomously and safely online. Students will not always have guidance when navigating the internet and they will frequently end up on new sites and faced with new information. Teachers cannot prepare every student for every situation, instead they must create savvy students who can make judgments and adjustments on the fly in the real world. So how do we do it? Well since I'm not even really a teacher yet I can't really tell you. But what I can offer is some strategies that have helped me in my past that I found particularly effective:

Stress the connection that the online world has with the real one, ask students if they would behave in a similar manner if the online interaction was taking place face to face.

Don't stress the small stuff. Too often young people are criticized for their slang, online behaviour or choice of picture. Be critical about it, don't just react to something that you don't understand or are uncomfortable with. By staying quiet for the small things it will make your voice louder when you speak about the bigger issues.

Be a role model. Use the internet in positive ways and expose your students to it. Show the potential of technology and show that "old" people love technology too. Then your issues with it will come from a place of knowledge not from being "out of touch."

I'm sure I have a few more strategies but this post is way too long for what it was supposed to be. I'm not even sure I really talked about "web awareness" as much as I should have. Oh well, if I helped one person with some ideas then it's worth it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

300 Years of Canada

 300 Years of Canada

Grade 5 Social Studies

In this activity students will examine three separate time periods in Canadian history and report back to the class what they found the most interesting about that time in Canada. Students will have to choose one of the years outlined on the Canadian Geographic website from each century (1700s, 1800s & 1900s). Students will be expected to read through each year’s brief summary paragraph before choosing which appeals to them. Students then choose a person from one of the chosen years who is also found at the Government of Canada website to learn more about this person. The focus of student presentations will be on the individual rationale for the choices made during the activity (why did they choose that year and/or person) and why they think certain events during the time were important. During the presentation students will highlight the major accomplishment of their chosen individual. Students hand in a worksheet (consisting of three maps) detailing the changes in boundaries during the three years studied.

General learner outcomes (GLOs):
Students will demonstrate an understanding of the events and factors that have changed the ways of life in Canada over time and appreciate the impact of these changes on citizenship and identity.

Specific learner outcomes (SLOs):
5.3.1 appreciate how changes impact citizenship and identity:
·         recognize the effects of Confederation on citizenship and identity from multiple perspectives
·         recognize the historical significance of French and English as Canada’s official languages

5.3.2 assess, critically, the changes that occurred in Canada immediately following Confederation by exploring and reflecting upon the following questions and issues:
·         How did John A. Macdonald and George-√Čtienne Cartier contribute as partners of Confederation?
·         How did the circumstances surrounding Confederation eventually lead to French and English becoming Canada’s two official languages?
·         How did the building of Canada’s national railway affect the development of Canada?
·         Why were Aboriginal peoples excluded from the negotiations surrounding Confederation?

List of the most relevant ICT outcomes:
5.S.4 demonstrate skills of decision making and problem solving:
·         use data gathered from a variety of electronic sources to address identified problems
5.S.7 apply the research process:
·         access and retrieve appropriate information from the Internet by using a specific search path or from given uniform resource locators (URLs)

Students use the Canadian Geographic website provided as the primary source of information in this activity. The map on this website provides detailed maps and brief descriptions of each time period. There is also a level of pseudo-interactivity given that students are able to click through the years to make their choices about what they find most interesting. The Government of Canada website acts as a supplementary resource in this activity but provides the opportunity for students to corroborate their initial findings. While not overwhelmingly reliant on technology, this activity benefits from the ease of use in having links within the text to many names, places and concepts, allowing students to freely explore what interests them. The use of technology in this activity also helps students visualize and directly compare boundary changes throughout the years. The simple layout of the website also aids in highlighting significant dates in Canadian history.

Canadian Geographic Enterprises. (2006). Canadian geographic: historical maps 1700. Retrieved from http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/mapping/historical_maps/1700.asp

Government of Canada, . (2001, May 10). People - confederation for kids. Retrieved from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/confederation/kids/023002-3000-e.html

Monday, September 27, 2010

What Is Effective Technology Integration For 21st Century

Technology is everywhere. It’s in our homes, at work and, more recently, in our classrooms. In the home it is used for anything the user so desires. At work technology is used to increase productivity and expand opportunities. In the classroom neither of these strategies is particularly effective. A student placed in front of a computer and simply told to “go” would be no more effective than if the sole reason for technology in the classroom is to complete more worksheets faster. Instead classroom integration must occur as an extension of pre-existing goals and objectives within the classroom.

The website Route 21 details a framework for 21st century learning that incorporates 4 main objectives when integrating technology into the classroom. While each objective is as important as the next, I felt that it was more useful to focus on learning and innovation skills to examine the inherent benefits and opportunities when using technology in the classroom. There are three areas of focus within learning and innovation skills: creativity & innovation, critical thinking & problem solving and communication & collaboration. As you can see these skills are not unique to technology but technology offers new ways of developing these skills in interesting ways.

Technology enhances creative thinking because it facilitates risk taking and refinement. Students have the opportunity to change things on the fly or completely erase something without fear of “starting all over again.” Critical thinking and problem solving is enhanced by technology because it offers the exploration of complex systems which would be impossible to experience. Imagine the difference between reading about the human body and observing a model versus interacting with a model online. Students can manipulate the environment or control various functions in ways that help them make comprehensive judgements and decisions. Technology gives unprecedented opportunities to communicate and collaborate in a classroom, and educational, setting. Effective technology integration would utilize the communicative powers of the internet by allowing students to share thoughts, ideas and questions with their peers and teacher online. Group work can be hidden within social websites that students are already familiar with. Students participating in a facebook group created for a school project will be doing homework but from within the structure of facebook the task becomes manageable and, perhaps, even fun.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blogs of Potential

So this is the future, blogging about blogging about blogging in the classroom. While this isn't my first experience with the process of blogging, it is the first time I've put it in context with education and teaching. My initial reaction was that blogging would be a great alternative to paper journals that students hand in to teachers or that maybe students can (much like we're doing here) create a blog about a particular topic and update it as the semester/unit progresses. The Alberta Education website that was suggested for this class states that the ICT curriculum focuses on three concepts:

  • communicating, inquiring, decision making and problem solving
  • foundational operations, knowledge and concepts
  • processes for productivity

Abstract concepts without a doubt. But interestingly enough student blogs provide one exercise that addresses each concept. Anyone who has setup a blog (as we've all learned) would not argue with the fact that decision making and problem solving are a key to building a clear and concise blog. The rest of the concepts would be handled by the teacher's requirements for the blog ("this week add a video which we've been working on in class") or simply by the nature of blogging itself. If done correctly, blogging is also quick and often more substantial way of meeting your classmates. It has the power to build friendships (sharing interests that would otherwise be unknown), to enhance knowledge of a subject (putting it into your own words), and just giving students a place to practice writing. Blogging has its limits but it also has enormous potential.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Hi there, by now you already know that my name is Adam McRae. I'm old, like 26 years old. This is my 3rd year in Lethbridge and I have to admit, it's still boring. Growing up in Calgary, being used to the bright city lights with all the fancy big city ideas has conditioned me to expect a faster pace. Not that the slower pace is so bad, just a little... slow. Anyways, I love sports (football, basketball, tennis) and I watch way too much TV (the best shows ever aired were The Wire, Six Feet Under and Lost). I also love technology so I'm pretty comfortable with this type of thing. We'll see how the rest of this goes but hopefully I keep feeling like an expert!