teaching with the tools of a digital world

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Technology and Engagement

This year I have been focusing on the following professional growth goal “Use technology to increase and enhance student engagement in and out of the classroom.” I recently came upon a research report on using Twitter to increase engagement. This article has helped to add more focus in my efforts to increase and enhance engagement in classroom through the use of technology. This article outlined the following components of engagement in the classroom; student to faculty contact, cooperation and collaboration among students, active learning, prompt feedback, emphasizing time on task, communicating high expectations, and respecting diversity.

I have added this new focus and direction to my efforts to increase student engagement. I will be looking for ways to highlight each component of engagement and the technologies I can use to help enhance these activities in my classroom. The first area I am going to focus on is prompt feedback. I have previously discussed my efforts to teach paperless in my classroom. While this is going very well and I am enjoying I feel I may have lost some of the more obvious ways and medium for providing feedback to students. I know at time this method wasn’t very prompt (I think going paperless has improved this), but I don’t have something physical to give back to the students. I don’t think students (very often anyway) paid much attention to their returned feedback (except maybe their scores on tests). I am looking for an effective method for providing student feedback. I am open to non-traditional methods and schedules for providing feedback. Maybe not for every assignment, only as students need feedback, or different media.

I keep looking until I find something that will work…


“Paperless Fridays” has become paperless… period.

A while back I posted a goal from my 30 Goals Challenge about initiating Paperless Fridays. My Paperless Fridays goal have become a beast of its own, I haven’t handed out a piece of paper or stood in a copy machine line since that day! I have taken to using Google Docs with my students a lot more regularly and I have started using my Camtasia software more frequently, as well. As I posted earlier, the end of last week I was at the Math and Science Teacher Conference at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming. While away from my classes I bypassed the substitute by communicating directly with my students through daily assignment emails, Camtasia screen capture videos detailing assignments, Skype running in my classroom, a private chat room and email throughout the day. This allowed for a much less disrupted classroom when I returned than is common following a substitute.

I have been using Google Forms to collect student responses and using Camtasia to build short tutorials for both technological challenges students may face and instructions for completing assignments. We work through all of these instructions in class, but these tutorials stand in as my backup when students are absent or at school sponsored activities or even if they just forget an aspect of the assignment. These tutorials have given me a tool to say, “Go check the video, ask a neighbor and if you still have questions then ask.” This has been especially helpful for those students who chronically tune out instructions.

I have had a number of students begin to take greater advantage of these technologies outside of class as well. I have always offered and given my school email to students and asked them to contact me whenever they have questions, yet they rarely have. This last week or so, however, I have had students contact me via email and Google Docs’ chat function while they are working on assignments at school, home and wherever else. I feel this has helped students to be more productive outside of class. Students aren’t waiting until the next day to ask their questions and using that as a reason to fall behind. They are learning to leverage these technologies to learn when they need to.

So far teaching paperless has been great!

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30 Goals Challenge: A Little Behind

So life has happened and I have fallen behind on my 30 Goals Challenge, but no excuses I am pushing forward and working on them again. The last week was pretty busy I was at school for only three days. During those three days I helped my Earth Science kids build a wiki on the Geological Timeline. They have made some good progress but we still have some work to do to get it up to par before we are going to share it here. I used my bike generator in Chemistry class for our “Off the Grid” day which went pretty well. On Wednesday I loaded up an excursion and headed two hours away to the Math and Science Teacher’s Conference.

It was a great conference that lasted until Friday evening. I presented on my bike generator project, “Off the Grid,” and encouraged others to try building a bike generator of their own to engage students in learning about energy, electricity and efficiency. It is a great project that draws lots of kids into my classroom outside of regular class time. It also draws many students who would be happy to sit back and do nothing into the fray of learning. I use it to different levels and degrees in all of my classes. I am also taking it this week to the elementary school with my physics students and on Thursday to present at the school board meeting. At the conference I also had a chance to listen to and watch Steve Spangler a few times. He had a lot of good ideas for motivating and exciting students about science and learning.

This leads me to goal #8 of my 30 Goal Challenge “What’s Your Personal Theme Song?” So it’s difficult to pick one song, but I figured I would stick with my favorite band. I chose Grand Canyon by Sister Hazel.  This song (and most songs by Sister Hazel) help to motivate me to do just about anything, it is a great pick me up.


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Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: 30 Goals (#5,6 & 7)

Student Attendance from a Friday (student names erased)

I spent the time to go and update all of my online profiles (at least those I could remember having). It was interesting to see what outdated information I had on there. I was also impressed with all of the ways to link them all together and connect them with each other. These seem like powerful tools for networking that I am not currently using! I also joined a few new networks that I hope will prove valuable, one is a new Facebook fan page. I’m looking to keep this goal going and add a few more “professional” items to some of my more commonly used profiles.

I set up Google Alerts for my name, blog url, and usernames. It is always a little interesting to see some of the things that end up getting sent my way with my first name being London. It both provides a powerful net of diversions and noise if someone is trying to find information on me. I guess it just means I have to do more to make positive things more visible.

My goal for “Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone” is to adopt paperless Fridays. I did this Friday and it went pretty well. I emailed each student their assignments and they were able to have continual access to them there. I haven’t decided if Google Docs would be a better alternative (less likely to get deleted) or if I will stick with email. I would like to get my students more in the practice of checking their emails regularly so that I can use it as a more viable way of contacting them outside of the classroom. Hopefully paperless Fridays will help. “Paperless Friday” also helped with another unique aspect of our school. We are a rural Wyoming school with a small (~220) but very active student body and students can need to travel great distances for sporting academic, and club activities. This usually makes Fridays a very sparse day at the school. I regularly adjust my teaching plans throughout the week as I figure out the numbers of students that will be absent on Friday, luckily the district is considering a 4 1/2 day week. If managed properly I think this could greatly help both teachers and students. Anyway, paperless Friday made it so I could assign  and notify students of their work while they were absent. I’m looking forward to using this more in the future, in fact I would love to go entirely digital with my students but I currently don’t feel like the computers I have in my classroom would allow for this. I proposed a classroom set of iPads to my Technology Integration Facilitator, she said she would look in to it… stay tuned! (with your fingers crossed…)

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Goals #3 and #4: Start an Adventure and Support a New Blogger

Today was the first day back to school with students I am excited for the new semester and a chance to get back to trying new things. I’ve decided to implement digital portfolios in all of my classes. They are going to be based around a set of five goals that each student will set regarding my class and others of their choice. This is the biggest thing I am changing/adding and looking forward to this semester. There are still a lot of questions of how this will all work out but I have spent a fair amount of time researching and thinking about this so I hope that will pay off.

As far as my two goals for the last two days (Start an Adventure and  Support a New Blogger) here they are! For my adventure I decided to start a class, luckily this is very much a at my own speed course (I actually have started two! and I am working on finishing another – I seem to always have this problem.) The first course I have to finish is the Earth and Environmental Science Podcast by Dr. Christian Shorey from the Colorado School of Mines. I am about 70% done with this and have been at it for a couple of months. The other two course I have decided to start are a Quantum Mechanics course from the University of Oxford. I’ve always felt that my Bachelor’s in Physics Education was lacking the Quantum Mechanics course that I wanted. I have decided that I will give this a shot. My hope is that it will be a conceptual Quantum Mechanics course as a mathematical based course will be difficult with audio only.

One of my other passions in life (aside from my family, teaching and technology) is photography. I have been taking whatever photography courses I could since I was a young teenager. I really enjoy photography and I am also looking for ways to expand my experience and knowledge. I have signed up for a course titled Sensing Place: Photography as Inquiry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Open Courseware (got to love it!). Each one of these courses comes from either an iTunes podcast or an iTunes University course.

As far as supporting a new blogger I have posted a comment on a edublog that I wouldn’t necessarily call a “new” blog, but it is one that I follow and found a post that I felt good commenting on. It is definitely a boost to realize that someone has read your post and thought it was worthwhile.

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Starting the Year Off: Goal 1 and 2

So it is two days into the new year and I am two goals into my 30 Goals Challenge. I’ve started my own personal journal on Penzu and I will continue my blogging/journal here and at my districts edtech blog that I started last month, Going Digital at HSCSD. I have really enjoyed the experience of blogging and I have learned a lot! I hope that this will continue throughout the new year. I learned more about my own teaching practice through reflecting and it has given me an additional incentive to continually try new things each day. I have basically had a record (albeit short) of at least one post/week. I hope to be able to up that a little bit and the 30 Goals Challenge will help with that I am sure. I hope to post updates on my goals as I accomplish them at least every other day.


For my second days goal (Contribute to a Blog Carnival) I submitted two of my posts (Poll Everywhere and QR Codes) to the education buzz blog carnival. I think I was able to find a pretty good resource and a chance to make some more connections with other educators out there. This also highlights a goal of mine to get some more readers and subscribers to my blog and making my post worthwhile for others to read. This will require me figuring out exactly what I am able to contribute to all of the sources that are out there. My plan is to blog some more and see what gets noticed and what interestes people.

Let the new year begin!