Thursday, April 24, 2014

Are two heads better than one? Group work vs. Individual work

flickr photo courtesy of Dunechaser
     I started thinking about writing this particular piece ages ago.  I have always been keen to distance myself from group work endeavors, because I have had such a negative experience in my life dealing with group work in general.  I have always focused on the negatives:  I knew I would be carrying my group mates, I knew I would have to do all the work and all the presenting if I were to receive an "A".  I was consistently placed in groups in K-12 training with students that were known underachievers in class.  There was no oversight, and just as much support from my teachers.  Due to these factors, I grew to detest group work, and I gained (what I would call) a general mistrust of people in general in reference to academic work and amount of effort.  It was not until I was recently introduced to an article entitled: "A Lone Wolf's Approach to Group Work," that I really was able to sit and think about what factors might still be keeping me from enjoying group work.
     First off, the article made me realize that not all potential group mates are as unwilling to work as I thought.  In fact, it might just be that group members are simply uninspired, bored, or really just do not even feel particularly engaged.  While I was driven by the extrinsic motivator of getting the "A", I failed to realize that not everyone else felt the same way.  The biggest thing that I learned from the article, was that I am capable of being the weak link in the group.  My desire to have things done a certain way has the strong potential for creating disinterest and failure.  Also of interest, is the fact that teachers and researchers do little to address and study people like me.  There was always a focus on assisting those with little cognitive investment in group projects - people the article calls "social loafers."
     At heart, I will always have firm confidence in my individual work.  I do not see errors as setbacks, but rather as challenges to have me engage further and exert more effort.  However, I have been trying to look at group work from a different perspective.  Much like how we are expected to be facilitators, not just teachers, I am interested in encouraging effective collaboration.  I have been a member of a few great groups in various classes this semester, and when we were able to collaborate effectively, we were able to produce truly wonderful work.  It certainly is possible for group work to yield more transformative results than just working alone.  
     Personally, I will embrace group work when needed, and I will even jump at the chance to work collaboratively with other professionals in my field.  However, I will still place a high value on my own abilities and self-confidence.  I enjoy individual work, but I think I can also learn to further enjoy collaborative work.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Adventures in the Conference Jungle: The Iowa 1:1 Institute

flickr photo courtesy of zappowbang
     This past Thursday, I attended the Iowa 1:1 Institute in Des Moines.  The Ed Tech department was very kind to give me a ride down in the van, and I am eternally grateful for that fact!  The banter was lively, save for a sleeper or two (hey, it was early!).  Now, this was not my first tech conference rodeo.  In the fall, I attended the ITEC conference, also in Des Moines.  However, this conference felt quite a bit different.  There were more k-12 school districts on the presenting side.  Many of the topics were the same; there were a number of Google Chromebook presentations, standard digital storytelling workshops, Minecraft-based forms, and even a fair share of information on Gamification.  But, I digress; back to the differences!
     What struck me most, was the fact that so many schools were reporting on their first year of experience within a 1:1 system.  I was able to talk to a fair number of teachers in multiple districts that had ideas governing which platforms to buy, and how to protect the hardware from the stress of consistent student usage.  I believe this particular aspect (the sheer number of school districts going 1:1) is an extremely positive sign of things to come.  The state had more and more districts adopting this platform, and we are seeing new and innovative questions that drive learning further.  So what types of presentations did I attend?
     First, I attended Technology in the PBL World; presented by Deb Loftsgard of Startmont CSD.  I noticed that she was extremely knowledgeable in both Social Studies and PBL (Project-Based Learning), and that she incorporated many of the aspects that we have studied in CTELE class.  I was also introduced to the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model regarding how technology is used in a classroom.  Deb really did an excellent job of speaking about how technology can play an integral role, especially in a PBL environment.
     Second, I attended a workshop on technology and Special Education.  I had actually been quite excited to attend this session, as I am an independent study student at UNI's T2 PAL office.  I am sad to say, I was let down horribly.  It may have been due to the fact that I had very high expectations, but the general presentation format felt very disjointed, and the presenter did not touch on points that were addressed in the title of the session.  However, there seems to be a great hunger for AT (Assistive Technology) information.  The room was packed; I barely had room to stand!  In the future, I may consider submitting a proposal to present on this particular topic.
     Third, I attended a session on a particular school district's first year with 1:1.  I found the presentation very informative from the standpoint of someone who could potentially become a Technology Integrationist within a school district.  The district gave a very thorough assessment of the use of Chromebooks from a software, hardware, and hardware safety standpoint.  These are all bits of information I could take with me into the field when considering such a large purchase order.  Not surprisingly, the Chromebook is the hottest item in new 1:1 implementation right now, mostly due to cost effectiveness.
     The final session I attended was interesting to me in the fact that I had the ability to discuss Minecraft with the presenters after the session.  Thanks for the introduction, Dr. Z!  All in all, I had a great time at the Iowa 1:1 Institute.  Actually, I have a great time at every conference I attend.  I meet all sorts of interesting people, I get to use Twitter in a productive manner, and I come away feeling refreshed.  I tend to learn a lot, too!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Interactive Whiteboards: More than just a mode of presentation

flickr photo courtesy of lvv@ldzenl
     Recently, I was part of a group that prepared an interactive whiteboard presentation on the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  Luckily, I had realized in my Level II field experience that the Promethean board was a tool to familiarize myself with.  However, I had not had much experience in adding variety to my lessons, as my prior experience involved using just maybe one or two tools.  Largely, and sadly, I had written off interactive whiteboards as a means to engage secondary level students.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was quite incorrect.
     Our project requirements created the need to utilize multiple tools to create variety within our presentation.  This forced me to look at various web resources, and I found myself back at a website that I had not visited in a while: Promethean Planet.  First of all, if you aren't a member, sign up.  This website has a host of resources.  There are tutorials for how to use Promethean board tools, packs of backgrounds, lessons that teachers can use and modify, and many other features.  There are even links to blogs and forums that can be used to further build your own PLN.  Due to my unique experience and knowledge regarding Promethean boards, I was even able to be of use to my classmates when they were creating their group projects.  I found this experience to be quite rewarding.

     Ultimately, in our project design, I saw a way that interactive whiteboards could be used in a Project-Based Learning environment.  They allow facilitators to present information in a manner that can foster the creation of driving questions, and they allow for activities that can contribute to truly meaningful projects.  I have changed my mind on the usefulness of interactive whiteboards in the secondary level classroom, if the resource is there, I now feel quite comfortable in using it to be an effective facilitator.  It is nice to have one more tool to be able to use.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ITEC Student Fair - Creativity with a side of tech

flickr photo courtesy of davepatten
     Unlike my last article on the STEM fair, I truly feel as though the ITEC Student fair is quite unique.  I did not have my daughter in tow this time, but I feel as though she would have loved it just as much as I did.  I feel as though I really enjoyed the ITEC fair because the exhibits weren't just about products, they were about creativity and innovation.  I was very impress with what the students had to offer at the fair.
     First, I was impressed with the Minecraft displays.  It is not a surprise to anyone that I am a Minecraft junkie.  Download it here, you won't regret the money spent! I saw two uniquely different displays regarding the topic.  One display was very simplistic, it involved an old-west themed town.  However, the students applied aspects of gamification into the town, and truly made it feel authentic.  The students also admitted that it could easily be used as a reference for a project in Literacy class - thus implying multiple uses.  The second display was made by high school students.  They ran a demonstration on Minecraft circuitry - which is not all that particularly exciting.  However, they also applied the same circuit principles to live examples, and they were able to show how the same circuit board principles applied from simple machines - all the way to complex computing devices.
     There were projects on music theory, digital storytelling, video game creation, and programming.  Perhaps the best project was very much STEM oriented.  A student had succeeded in making molds that could be utilized with a CNC machine to create logos on blocks of wood, bars of soap, candy bars, and multiple other media.  Most important, I realize that these molds could be easily mass-produced in a 3D printing shop.  This project seemed to be to be a clear hybridization of science, technology, and true application.  I would have been excited to see this project at a STEM fair, and it would have been unique enough to be the star of the show.
     I feel like the ITEC Student tech fair really captured the magic of creating and theory through the use of technology.  There was enough differentiation between concepts and projects, that every display felt original and highly creative.  I left the ITEC fair feeling inspired to try new ideas, and that can never be a bad thing!

Spotlight on STEM?

flickr photo courtesy of oomlout
Greetings!  Although quite belated, this post is highly relevant.  You see, I was rather apprehensive about writing this article, as I tend to live by the old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  However, with some reflective coaxing, I have decided to talk about the STEM fair from February 27th.  
     The projects were all fine, some were even interactive; involving dry spaghetti noodles and marshmallows - used for constructive purposes.  The student presenters were well-informed and my daughter absolutely loved the displays.  There was certainly no lack of enthusiasm among the presenters.  In fact, I do not fault them at all for my bitterness.  So what went wrong?
     Well, in short, it was just like every other STEM fair I have been to.  And when I think about it, I have been to over ten this school year.  And here is the crux of the problem: There are too many STEM fairs.  There is a lot of money poured into these fairs for students to do the same projects, yet I see the same projects every time.  If students and parents attend these consistently, I feel as though interest in STEM might wane.  Correct me if I am wrong, but STEM fairs are designed to drum up interest.  I like that the fairs get the public and area businesses involved, but I just don't feel the energy that I used to when the STEM idea was new.  How can we attract students without STEM fairs?  Well, the answer is quite simple - we make STEM classes fun and engaging, and educators present projects within their own schools.
     I don't doubt that STEM classes are fun.  However, I believe there are ways to create cross-curricular collaboration.  Through the medium of Project Based Learning, it would be easy to have tie-ins between English and Science, Mathematics and the Arts, evening Engineering and the Social Sciences.  Second, can you remember enjoying an assembly in school?  When I was in school, assemblies were mainly meant to relay some key information or hand out awards.  What if students were to present their projects to the whole school and engage the audience?  Ultimately, I think we are limiting our creativity and imagination by relying solely on STEM fairs as the presentation model.  Let us update the fair-based model and bring the principles back to the schools - where the students are.  People like to hear talking about as much as they like paying taxes.