Becoming George Jetson

I spent today listening to a number of engaging presentations from Dr Barrett Mosbacker on how schools, and in our case, Christian schools need to come into the 21st century by engaging our students in learning with the use of technology in relevant ways. One of his comments particularly stood out – “We can’t have Fred Flinststone schools for George Jetson students”. The obvious implication for us as teachers is that we can’t continue to live in a Fred Flinststone world – we need to morph ourselves to become George Jetson.

Our students are using technology all the time – many of them carry ‘smart’ phones that they can use to connect to the internet whenever they like, where ever they are. It’s simply not good enough to try and shape technology to fit our ‘old’ teaching methods. Our teaching methods must evolve with the times and take what the technological world is producing and apply it to our Programs and lesson plans.

It was interesting to note that:

– there are over 2 billion google searches each month

– more text messages will be sent each day than there are people on the earth

– In 2008, the amount of new technical information was doubling every 2 years. In 2010 the estimation is that it is doubling every 72hrs.

Dr Mosbacker believes we are living in a 3rd industrial revolution as so much of our old technology has become obsolete – the VCR, dial-up internet (which even I have now ditched at my wife’s insistence!), the type writer, encyclopaedias, polaroid cameras, and I’m sure you can think of plenty more.

How we now use this information (that people are embracing technology more and more) is something we must deal with.The use of mobile phones at school is a prime example of an area we need to give greater thought to. At Covenant, students aren’t allowed to use their phones in anyway during school hours (including break times) however, the possibilities for enriching education are worth considering.

It would be naive to think that every single one of our students have a smart phone, but almost all of them would carry a mobile phone of some sort that carries a camera. How can we put that to use in our lessons? Use the cameras for individual and peer review technique when practicing skills? Using video functions to film scenarios for discussion or create a Health TV article? Use the recording device to podcast their thoughts or a summary of their notes?

Could we use the calendar and organisational tools in each of the phones to help students better manage their time to complete homework, assignments and assessments? It’s not like they ever leave it too far out of reach! We could explore the possibility of students using them to submit feedback on what they are currently learning in class by using a website such www.polleverywhere.com which allows students to SMS a code to give instant feedback that would be presented on a live animated chart that can be projected onto the board.

For those, that do have access to a smart phone, we could use applications such as ‘runkeeper‘ to track and analyse student movement patterns, monitor their average speeds, highest speed, the amount of time spent in specific training zones.

I understand that there are issues with who ‘owns’ the content of photos or videos that we upload, but maybe we need to consider how we can embrace the technology that our students carry with them each day.

As you would know from my previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this recently. Today, I realised that I’m becoming more George Jetson that Fred Flintstone!

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Renewed Excitement

When you first get into the classroom fresh out of University, there is a sense of excitement about what lies ahead and the impact you can make. Somewhere along the way in the last 10 years the flame has died down. It might be that the busyness of work has meant little time to explore all the things I started out doing, or it may be just a normal process that happens.

However, recently, something’s got me excited again. And it’s not a sporting event, or a trip away with the students or anything like that, it’s the thought of what can be done using technology in the classroom. What can be used to engage the students in learning. It started last holidays, reading some ‘tweets’ from a friend at an IT conference. Being on holidays, I had more time than usual to check out one of the presentations that was being broadcast on the net. Before I knew it I was reading article after article on random blogs and a new world had opened up.

Many things struck me as I went from blog page to blog page, but none stood out as much as the concept that the use of PowerPoint should be avoided because teachers ‘often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool (http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Naked-Effort-Strips/47398/). So, if I am to stop using PowerPoint in my teaching, how do students get the information they need?

Well, when you consider that almost any information the students need can be found using Google or any other search engine, or we could email or print out for them any other information they need then surely we need to consider how we teach and the types of ‘work’ we get them to do.

What’s excited me about these thoughts, is that all of a sudden I’ve started thinking of ways to get my students engaged using higher order thinking, reading information and starting to analyse it, working out what the main points are, challenging them to ask questions of the information they are reading, debating what it means. Not spending so much time copying out notes that already in books they can read, or search for on the internet is opening up time to spend doing other things.

There are so many ways that technology can help. So far I’ve only tried a few things and a steady as she goes approach is probably not a bad idea as I’m still only a ‘noob’ with most types of technology but a few things are better than nothing. Here’s what the last 5 weeks has introduced:

1) I’ve started a faculty blog site to ‘publish’ students work and present it to a worldwide audience. Hopefully, knowing their work will be visible, will mean they will put more effort into raising the standard of what they are writing but will also give a purpose to what they do. Rather than having their work sitting in their exercise book, now it’s out there for everyone to make use of!

2) Flip Cameras – we’ve used these little beauties in PE lessons as a means of providing almost instantaneous feedback to students on their performance technique. They are more effective than a normal video camera as they don’t require rewinding to preview the action you just required. I’ve also used them in theory lessons to video students explaining diagrams/models and then put them on our school Moodle so that students can put them on their MP3 players. (The use of MP3’s and podcasting is, I think, an area of much potential in our teaching.

3) Last week we had a guest speaker in my Year 8PDH class to talk about Depression. The great thing about this was that our guest speaker came to us via Skype from his office almost 7 hours drive away. I’d never used skype before but it took literally 2-3 minutes to download the free program, another 1-2 minutes to set up an account. Using my connections, we lined up our speaker, tested the connection before the lesson began. After an introductory activity with the class, our guest speaker ‘called’ in to tell us about his experiences with depression. It didn’t all go smoothly, but after 1-2 initial dropouts we were able to establish a connection for another 25 minute discussion. Imagine the possibilities for getting ‘experts’ into our classrooms from all over the world! And, the call won’t cost a thing.

There are so many other ideas running through my head – some significant but some only small, but I’ll leave them for another time.

The term is almost over and another holiday period will hopefully give me time to consider how I can use technology to engage the students and help them teach themselves!