Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tech Savvy Teachers Part 1

Paul and I have spent parts of the last four weeks visiting with teachers around our high school. We have been showing teachers how set up staff profile pages on the district's Website, move materials to the Web, use their SharePoint accounts, and many other technology related items. We were able to work with teachers that were not very tech literate, some that were very tech literate, and a bunch in between. Out next few posts will feature teachers at SHS that are using technology in the classroom effectively as guest bloggers. Our goals is to have them share how technology has made their teaching lives better.

Our first guest is Mr. David Fix. He teaches Civics and Econ here at the high school. Here is what he has to say about using technology in the classroom. Enjoy!

From Dave Fix:

Technology can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the educational process, but it is only a tool. Technology cannot compensate for poor teaching, but it can augment good teaching. A teacher needs to master his/her curriculum, assessments, organization, teaching strategies and professional relationships before the introduction of technology can be of benefit. Once this foundation is in place, however, technology can make the educational process easier and more effective for all involved.

A good first step is to digitize your curriculum. Every assignment, every assessment, every lesson needs to be put into an engaging digital form. This allows for elements of your curriculum to be shared and updated more easily. It allows your curriculum to evolve. Changes are easily made from anywhere and updates are instant.

I used to dread when students were absent because it meant I needed to bring them up to speed in the two minutes before class started or to stay after school tutoring them. Now, all my lessons are online and absent students are responsible for finding out what we covered in class. It empowers students and parents and liberates the teacher.

Digitizing assessments and using Examview is also a great time-saver. It used to take me two to three hours just to correct 100 weekly tests. Now it takes me about 30 minutes to grade them, look at which items students consistently struggled with and put the grades into Powerschool. This saves me about 60 hours every school year.

Although a simple idea, having an online calendar also serves the students, parents and teachers. After digitizing my curriculum and using an online calendar for the past six years, I am now able to plan every day of the school year ahead of time. As soon as the school calendar comes out, I spend about and hour filling in my online calendar with each unit, each test and each project. I no long am constantly recalculating scope and sequence.
Mass emails are another simple and effective idea. I track students who are struggling and send all their parents a mass email notifying them of upcoming tests, projects and deadlines. Parents appreciate this and, once the groundwork is done, it takes about five minutes a week to do.

Of course the catch is that digitizing your teaching process takes a lot of time up front. My first semester using a digital interface, I spent about five hours, seven days a week developing my systems. Now, if I use my conference hour effectively, I can cut my time planning outside of school down to zero. I review and update my lessons and assessments every year. But with everything digitized systematically, I can do it a lot faster, and I can do it from a coffee shop or from home.

I used to get butterflies on Sunday nights worried about weekly lesson plans. I used to spend a lot of time combing through files at school on nights and weekends. I used to make notes to myself about things I needed to remember to say in class - lots of them. Now, on most days I don't even think about the lesson a head of time. Class starts the second the bell rings, and I am confident and well-rested. My professional life has become easy, and I have become a much better teacher. I am more consistent, and my lesson evolve over time.

Investing in learning technology and staying organized are critical elements. If you don't do this homework, adding technology to your teaching will make things worse - more variables, more glitches, more confusion and frustration. But, if you dedicate yourself to some core technology that you use in a simple and consistent way, it can help make you a stress-free and effective teacher.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Graduation Gift? Mac VS. PC

Every year about this time I get the same question over and over again, “my son and daughter has just received a sum of money from their graduation open house and we’re thinking of buying a new laptop computer to send our pride and joy off to college with”. So instead of answering this question over and over and I thought I’d just create a post. This is how I see it (please remember I have never owned a Mac):

  • Number one: I think Macs are better than PCs.
  • Number two: I think PCs are a better value dollar for dollar. A Mac will cost 2 to 2.5 times the cost of the same specification PC.
  • Number three: The less you know about computers, the better idea it is to buy a Mac. 
  • Number four: If you buy a PC you had better have a backup plan, you will get viruses, and you will need to restore your computer to its original factory settings sometime in the next 18 months. That is not a big deal, if you know what to do (that will be the topic of our next blog post). 
  • Number five: Macs are cool PCs are not. 
  • Number six: I will never own a Mac, unless it costs about the same as a PC. I will never be cool. 

I would love feedback from my Mac friends and militant PC supporters. Let’s get this party started!