Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Opinions matter!

Last week was the first week my photojournalism class started using the cameras. (I was trying to put it off, because it meant they'd be going outside taking pictures, and it was still around 110 degrees outside.) So, after spending weeks on introductory work with rules, writing captions, and learning photo rules, we finally busted out the cameras.

And it was a disaster. Actually, it wasn't terrible, it was just that 45 minutes was not even close to long enough to do what I wanted. I had been going over practices that make quality photos, having them choose a few practices, and then going outside with the cameras to try it out. This worked really well, in fact, because they loved examining what made a good picture (we'd look at 2 pix side by side, identifying why one was better than the other), and then they had fun trying to take their version of "artistic" photos after that. The problem came when we tried to upload the pictures in the last 3 minutes of class, never having done it before. (They had also never used iPhoto.)

This is a classic mistake I tend to make when teaching a new technology. I give the kids plenty of credit in terms of using the technological savvy that their generation has to "figure things out" without much explanation, however they tend to need more time to do it than I think. Which was exactly what happened here. Also, another critical error I made was having an inadequate check-out system for the cameras, which resulted in 2 cameras being stolen during the first class of the first day!! Under severe threat of field trip removal, they were returned by lunch, but I became very aware of a need to change my system.

So, the next day, I changed things up by shortening the discussion of how to take good pictures, reviewing camera rules, creating a sign-out/sign-in sheet for the cameras, and keeping the kids in the room to take pictures. Still disastrous, and I had my worst class coming up! Hence, over my lunch period, we did a total revamp. Out of frustration, I just wrote all the instructions on the board for a new lesson that involved beginning with iPhoto, then taking a picture and uploading it. Then, when the class came in, I asked their opinion if they wanted to go through all the steps together, or whether they wanted to just read them and work at their own pace. They chose to work at their own pace, and it worked like a charm. They immediately got started and it was as close to quiet as that room has ever been. What a relief!

I kept following this pattern with the rest of my 8th grade classes the rest of the week and it worked great. Most classes chose to work individually, but a couple chose to work together. No matter what they chose, it worked remarkably better than the original system, I think because they had input into how they were going to take in the information. Let's face it, when you're 14, all you want in life is to be in charge, even if in a very small way. Lesson learned: give them a choice!

This is the set of steps I eventually ended up using for this lesson:

1. Take a screen shot of something on your desktop (Command+Shift+4 on Mac)
2. Open iPhoto.
3. Create a new folder in iPhoto with your name (File-->New Folder).
4. Create a new album in iPhoto labelled "First Try" (File-->New Album).
5. Drag your album into your folder.
6. Drag your screenshot into your album.
7. Memorize the Camera Rules. Tell them to Mrs. Shetler in order to sign out a camera.
8. With a partner, each take a picture of one THING in the classroom (no people!)
9. Upload your pictures into iPhoto and drag them into your album.
10. (If time,) select the picture and edit it in iPhoto.

(The photo is by one of my students, taken on Constitution Day.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How students use Google Instant

Last week, I had an 8th grade photojournalism student who was supposed to be working on a blog post caption about a picture of the 1963 March for Freedom in Washington DC. I had showed them the pictures they were to write captions for in advance, and had showed the picture below and mentioned that the Washington Monument was in the background. (For your entertainment, I only told them this after I was corrected by a student on Thursday who informed me that it was NOT the Lincoln Memorial as I said, but the Washington Monument. Oops!)

Since all the students had to do was look at the photos and write captions for them in the format we'd discussed, I was surprised to find a student on Google. I walked over to him and told him to get back to work, but he then told me that he was trying to figure out how to spell Washington Monument, and he was using Google Instant to help him figure out when he was right! So, he'd type letter by letter until it brought out the words he was trying to spell and a picture and map of the correct item, and then he'd go back and type it correctly in to the blog post. Genius!

[By the way, automatic spell check in every program in Macs is one of my favorite school features. Whoever thinks spell check is bad for kids, has never been so terrified that they asked the teacher why the computer says their name is spelled wrong. Kids are way more likely to correct their spelling when they know its wrong in the first place.]

Teaching Tech or Teaching WITH Tech?

[Don't worry, I haven't bailed on teaching technology, just thought the low-tech, no spell-check sign was funny! :-)]

I've completed my first month of teaching technology for 7th grade and photojournalism for 8th grade. I would say it's been a successful month, on the whole. Since I'm teaching a "special area" class for self-contained junior highers, I only see each group of kids once a week, which means I've spent a total of 3 hours with them, so far. While this has eliminated a lot of management issues, it's also made me realize a number of other things about teaching (or my opinion of it).

First of all, the kids are great (by and large). The 8th graders require a shorter leash to keep them on task, and are less patient with any words coming from my mouth (i.e., the quicker I can get them working on a project, the better), but are able to think deeper. The 7th graders are sweeter (currently) and are more interested in learning to do things on the computer, but have less background knowledge of computers.

I am enjoying teaching students how to use various technologies (ranging from blogs to online stickies to digital cameras to Powerpoint), but doing it in 45 minutes and/or having them remember what to do after 7 days is a bit of a challenge. I enjoy not having to explain or justify WHY I am using technology to administrators, but since I'm a traveling teacher to 4 schools, administrators are just glad there is someone in the room. It does take more patience teaching how to use specific technologies in the beginning, but the payoff should be worth it.

However, what I'm learning is that while I don't miss classroom deadlines, test score analysis, administrative pressure, behavior management, etc., I do miss finding ways to integrate technology INTO my curriculum (as opposed to technology BEING the curriculum). I'm trying to integrate a bit of the curriculum into the technologies I'm supposed to be teaching, but it's not quite the same. So, to scratch that itch, I try to offer suggestions and help other teachers who need assistance in that area as much as possible.

On a related note, I've gotten to do a lot more training for other teachers this year, as I've finally learned a number of lessons in education (now that I'm starting my sixth year). Some of those lessons include:
-If you want to do something/go somewhere, ASK.
-Figure out who you need help from, and get on their good side
-Put yourself out there (if you are curious about something new, try it; you might be good at it)
-Don't be afraid to fail (blessings might come from the experience anyway)
Hence, this year I've done some trainings for IWBs (which is a blast) and am getting ready to do a digital poster session for Delicious soon at the district's Speed Date Your Computer event.

Overall though, my eventual goal is still to end up doing teacher training full time with large groups, as well as working with teachers individually to help them integrate technology into the curriculum.

So, all that to say, if I have to choose between teaching tech or teaching WITH tech, I want to teach people to teach with tech :-) (There's some tongue-twisting alliteration for you!)