"The teacher is the chief learner in the classroom."
- Donald Graves

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Connecting Purposefully via Networks

This week I took a different tack to finish my assignment. I decided to create a short video to introduce viewers to a couple of networks that I found interesting and that I could use in my own practice to find new ideas, learn new techniques and perhaps share some of the things I've been doing with technology. These networks are dedicated to a narrow purpose or area of interest. While social networks like Facebook, twitter, linkedin, and Google+ can be used in much the same way, the networks I chose were both created using the .ning web 2.0 application that facilitates the creation of a web presence for the network that can be used to curate content by network members. 

I chose to present The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution as one of my sites largely due to the impact that having an interactive whiteboard has had on my teaching. Prior to incorporating this technology, most images were static or crudely done on an overhead projector. An interactive whiteboard is a dynamic tool that is easy to customize for various content, able to project audio/video content that can be manipulated, and accessible by students. I use this technology daily, and have for the past four years, to present new information and engage students with content in an active way. As Jerome Berg stated in his interview with Lainie McCann in one of this week's videos, the interactive whiteboard is a "wonderful way to have [students] engaged, have them building. They're building their understanding through active encounters with content." (Berg, 2008) However, when you have used a tool for a period of time, it can be easy to always use it in the same way. The main reason I chose to explore The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution is that with familiarly comes complacency. I have used this tool in much the same way for a long time and have developed proficiency with it, but I know there is probably so much more that can be done with this technology. Joining the Interactive Whiteboard Revolution network offers the opportunity to learn some new uses for this "old" technology to impact the educational experience for my students. 

The second network I chose to explore and present is Literacy in the Digital Classroom. I chose this network because literacy is of paramount importance to students of all ages and harnessing the power of digital tools to teach literacy is a cornerstone of the Common Core State Standards. Books are no longer sufficient to teach students the depth of content required by these standards. They need to be augmented by digital content. Many of the standards require the inclusion of multiple sources of information and the Internet is, by design, multiple sources of information. Joining this web network provides the opportunity to discuss, learn and share various strategies to not only meet standards, but also to engage learners at the level necessary to become literate in the 21st Century. Also, I have always felt literacy to be one area where I am never certain if I am providing the best instruction for my students. There are so many different ways to teach literacy. By joining this network, I am sure to find new, interesting, and engaging ways to teach literacy to my students. 

We live in a time when it has never been easier to connect with people and ideas. The Internet has made it possible to learn from diverse experts across the globe. To not make those connections seems a waste of resources and, in my opinion, shows a lack of commitment to the profession of education. 


McCann, L. (Host). (2008). CUE Live 2008: Use of an educational network for google earth project. Retrieved on November 17, 2009, from http://www.blip.tv/file/725529

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Teaching Through Forty-One Years of Change

An interview with Veteran Teacher Sandra White

Forty-one years and counting: Interview with Sandra White
Paul Stolt
Lamar University

Author Note
Saundra White has been teaching in public schools in Arkansas for 41 years. Her current teaching assignment is in 4th grade. She also teaches education courses at Northwest Arkansas Community College. Ms. White is one of the first teachers in her building to implement her district’s new BYOD program in her classroom.
Teaching, instructional practices, and strategies
Education has changed considerably since Sandra White began teaching in 1972. Changes in teaching, instructional practices, and strategies have been most profound during the past 15 years of her career as computers, Internet access, and World Wide Web content  began to be steadily incorporated into pedagogy.  These newly wired classrooms required new teaching and instructional practices to meet the needs of students. One of the “huge” changes mentioned by Sandra White is that textbooks are no longer the primary source of information. “We used to have to use textbooks and we got so excited when there was a new adoption because we got some new information. We got to go to those things to get new textbooks for the next few years.” (White, S. 2013) Textbook adoptions are regulated by state statute with contract periods no less than three, nor more than 5 years for “courses subject to rapid knowledge-base changes.” (Zinth, 2005) Sandra White has taught long enough to witness 8 to 14 textbook adoptions in rapid knowledge-base courses. She now says that “[textbooks] are a thing of the past. Absolutely! We use them as a resource, but knowledge is at these kid’s fingertips and it’s fast and there’s plenty of it.” (White, S. 2013) Teachers and their students are no longer dependent on a three to five year cycle or a textbook publishing company for information. Internet delivered information has changed the definition of rapid knowledge-base changes.
Access to the vast resources of the Internet requires teachers to adapt instructional practices. As the web developed and evolved from a relatively static depository of information to an interactive repository of information, instructional practices changed as well. Ms. White recalls that: “Fifteen years ago, we were excited to have a list of websites to send kids to. That was our first change. We had these neat websites to go to and now it’s just anything and everything.” (White, S. 2013) Opening the web to schools created a need for students to learn to read and think critically. Instructional practices had to include lessons in not only reading for meaning, but also how to evaluate information for veracity. Unlike content in the carefully vetted and edited textbook, students had to be taught to be critical consumers of information found on the web. “That’s exactly right,” Ms. White continues. “[Students] have to realize they have to scan it with a fine toothed comb because it may be truthful and it may be not.” (White, 2013) New strategies for teaching have developed to meet this need for creating students with critical thinking skills.
One of those developments is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. These standards require students to use a variety of resources in all subject areas to acquire the “knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed” (“About the Standards”, 2012) in college courses and the workplace. Ms. White acknowledges that teaching strategies have changed due to the new standards.
There’s a whole lot more to research in science and social studies and so much more non-fiction tied into the content of science and social studies. You’re not just teaching the content, as you are teaching how to find the content, research and communicate. You’re teaching reading strategies and that’s because of common core. And research, I mean my kids are constantly doing research - small research projects - to find out information. I may I introduce them to a topic, but they find out more. I don’t have to stand up there and throw out knowledge to them. They can find their own knowledge and then report it and present it. (White, 2013)
Clearly, Ms. White believes that strategic changes in teaching have resulted from the implementation of the new nearly nation-wide standards. And students have changed as well as they respond to new opportunities for learning.
Characteristics of students
Students’ skills as researchers, constructors and disseminators of information and knowledge have never been more of a focus in education. Students are “connecting to information sources and learning in multiple ways.” (Siemans, nd) Learning has become less about knowing who to ask for information and more about “knowing where to find information.” (Siemans, nd)  Students are also more tech-savvy and harder to engage with traditional methods. As Sandra White states: “We were losing them, we were just sage on the stage standing there giving all the knowledge out to them and they had to basically absorb it or not.” (White, 2013) Students were losing interest in being depositories of knowledge, especially when access to knowledge no longer required another person. While students’ chronological ages have remained constant, their technological ages have advanced exponentially, challenging teachers to move into the role “of coaches and role models, because . . . many of the didactic aspects of teaching are not needed anymore, because the information is so prevalent.” (Gardner, nd) Sandra White has seen a change in students in recent years. “I think they’re engaged more. I think the engagement of kids is much more a motivational thing to keep them motivated.” (White, 2013) She credits technology and less teacher-directed instruction with this increase in student motivation.
Major Teaching and Learning Theories
Motivating students to learn has always been a basic tenet of educational theory. On the subject of teaching and learning theories, Ms. White was justifiably perplexed; a lot of theories have come and gone during her 41 years of service. She said she “had no idea – probably Skinner” when asked about theories prevalent when she began her career. Harvard Psychologist B.F. Skinner’s Behaviorism contended that formal education “depends on the teacher creating optimal patterns of stimulus and response” (Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. 2012) Skinner also posited that: “Teaching is the arrangement of contingencies of reinforcement under which students learn.” (Kalantizis, M., & Cope, B. 2012) From the perspective of 2013, it is hard to imagine how Skinner’s theory might adequately meet the needs of students in a connected classroom.
Ms. White would not return to those days, preferring the changes in teaching, instructional strategies, learning, student and student-centered instructional theories spawned by the Internet. After witnessing over 40 years of changes in teaching and learning, primarily since wide-spread inclusion of Internet access and World Wide Web content, Sandra White offers a long-term perspective of education in a digital age. When asked whether the changes were good or bad, she quickly replied: “They’re good. I like them a lot.”

Zinth, K. (2005) State Textbook Adoption.  Retrived on October 11, 2013 from http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/57/75/5775.htm
About the Standards. (2012) Retrieved on October 11, 2013 from http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards
Siemens, G. (nd). The Changing Nature of Knowledge  [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMcTHndpzYg
Gardner, H,. (nd) Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Digital Youth. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/digital-generation-howard-gardner-video

Kalantizis, M., & Cope, B., (2012) Skinner’s Behaviorism. New Learning: Transformational Designs for Pedagogy and Assessment. Retrieved from http://newlearningonline.com/new-learning/chapter-6-the-nature-of-learning/bf-skinner%E2%80%99s-behaviourism/