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Foraging for learning resources

October 6th, 2011 No comments

I just read a comment about how unrealistic some of our expectations are for integrating technology into learning in public schools. I have 70 minutes each week in our computer lab and library and classroom computers accessible at other times. There are five computers for students in my room. Its not 1-1 but I imagine other classrooms might envy the situation. Its not enough though and it is always a transient resource.

I took one of the classroom laptops to a meeting this afternoon. Believe me, I almost took my own aging laptop to the meeting. I dislike reducing student access to these resources. The Dell laptop crashed on me twice. I think it is only two and a half years old. If this laptop or its twin die, I suspect we would not get a quick replacement. Schools eat resources quickly. It is all consumable. When something comes my way I try to make use of it.

A Fusion keyboard recently came my way. I assigned it to a bright student with writing difficulties. It was just an experiment to see if this nine-year-old could get his ideas down better if he did not have to struggle with fine motor control and letter reversals. Perhaps it is too soon to draw conclusions but he focused on his writing for twenty-five minutes without getting distracted. Its a first for me. The Fusion keyboard was going begging. People want iPads in their classrooms now. Well so do I, or perhaps some decent netbooks. There are no iPads at the moment so I will run this thing into the ground if it works for this student. I’ve done this sort of thing before. October 19th, 2007 I posted about nursing five Sun Micro-system stations along in my classroom by keeping a cupboard full of spares. When I moved out of that room the next teacher abandoned the project. Perhaps I should not be surprised but I get the impression most of us forage for resources of one sort or another.

Older technologies are still worth the hunt. I wonder how many of my colleagues remember there is a central resource center in our school division. After my Powerful Learning Practice meeting today I visited the resource center with my intern. There is a lot there and I think she went away with some fresh resources. Our computer lab is almost booked solid all week long. The library has plenty of free time. That is probably a very good thing. The librarian in me knows scheduled trips to the library make less sense than accessing the stacks when you need them. Still, it almost seems this learning resource is being overlooked a bit.

We need to forage for resources and we also need to keep foraging for new ideas. Some of them, like merit pay and finding based on school performance, should be passed over as quickly as possible. I’ll never stop listening or thinking about the possibilities though. The Fusion Keyboard may not meet my student’s needs but its worth a try. I introduced myself to the Powerful Learning Practice community with a link to a TimeGlider I built on my career. Someone quipped that they tried to move my retirement date. I hope he wanted to postpone it, not hasten it. I’m not watching the clock. I just added it because for the life of me, I can never remember the date. I’ve reached that stage in my career where people ask me sometimes. I feel foolish not knowing. I’m pretty caught up in all this wonderful learning still.

sometimes you should just hammer away

October 2nd, 2011 2 comments

I noticed that we quickly slipped into the second month of school. Looking back I feel I have made a good start but it was not precisely the start that I wanted to make with my class. Inquiry-based learning is not the center of learning as I had hoped and I don’t think I have made enough effort to differentiate learning. Perhaps other teachers keep on track better. I like to think my frustration is not so unfamiliar.
I suppose my field trips to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum of Natural History and our Habitat hike along the Trans Canada Trail through Moose Jaw’s Wakamow Valley had elements of inquiry. The students only gathered data and that is not what I want them to be doing. To that extent I did the field trips wrong. The steps of inquiry are selecting an authentic topic, narrowing the topic appropriately after consuming an overview, researching the topic, and publishing the learning (my plan is more detailed than that). After five weeks my students have not published their learning on a an inquiry topic. The initiative during the month of October shifts to my intern as she begins her three week block. I’ll have to see what she is planning.

In my mind, differentiation connects with inquiry in learning. It connects because my students take ownership for the topics, mode of consumption, the learning they create, and the medium they select to publish their learning. It is awesome to see how they all do this. The process of inquiry reminds me of what should ways be obvious: people are autonomous learners. We ignore this when student’s unique learning styles intrude on our carefully constructed lesson plans.

I saw a spark of the learning climate I wanted in the computer lab this last week. The students are all excited about Voki. I demonstrated it to them as part of the introduction to their digital portfolio project. They all want to embed one on their page. Rather than teach it to them step by step I just pointed them in the right direction. Independent learning, problem solving, and mentoring resulted. It comes to me that I did not prepare the environment effectively this last month. The previous two years I began the year building wikispaces pages. It built interest and a collaborative climate. This year I was more cautious about using technology without a curriculum connection and perhaps less confident about how the fourth graders would do with it. They proved me wrong. They were ready for it.

I think sometimes the human response is to create from the available tools. I always remind myself that if your only tool is a hammer, then all your problems will look like nails. For example, when we love our standardized assessments too much then we think them essential for everything. On the other hand, its fun to let the application of a technology be the problem. “Here’s Voki,” I told my class. “What can we do with it? How can it help represent our learning?” I think I forgot how powerful an impact technology can be on our learning environments.