Sunday, November 6, 2011

Change is Good

This year I changed schools. I am now a general elementary teacher and I teach a multi-age 5th and 6th grade. I live three minutes from school and have the teaching situation I have always wanted,  a self-contained class. There has been some adjustment.

In August, Google was completely blocked. This school does not do robotics, Scratch and Starlogo fell into the forbidden "edu-tainment" category, and teacher email was monitored for personal use.

In the short term, my original plan, to have students blog about a collaborative problem-solving task involving robotics, was not going to work. Over the past few months, I have made a lot of progress. Many teachers already had Gmail accounts. Now we are able to use the accounts at school. I have a school blog and "transparent class room" blog, both linked to the school webpage. The teachers share information on a private blog, after school robotics will be funded this spring and in the meanwhile, my students are working on a technical project (but it involves hammers, nails and drills). Students are not blogging about what they have done; they are writing informational papers about how to use various types of equipment. The project is still not complete, but all-in-all, I am very pleased with our progress.

While I have been able to start the conversation around Google Apps, I have little hope of seeing movement anytime soon.  Very recently I took a new tack. Since most of my students already had email accounts, I asked them to sign up for their own Google Apps accounts. I gained parental permission by announcing my intentions in two parent letters and when I got no negative response, actually I got no response what-so-ever, I proceeded. In the last two weeks, my students have begun to use Google Docs, Presentation and Forms for various collaborative learning activities.

My new project involves building. As the teacher in charge of the school greenhouse, I was able to get permission and funds to build some hoop houses and, later this winter, light frames for seedlings. My students have learned how to use the tools involved in this construction and they have written procedural papers for using different tools. The art teacher and I collaborated on a technical drawing activity, and during math class, I had students measure and mark the lumber.

I have been very successful in the transparent part of the classroom and modestly successful in the reverse teaching. My students are reluctant to stand before the class and demonstrate anything, but I am finding that they will share in smaller groups and impromptu settings. We have had demonstrations on everything from "how to group pictures and text" to "how to harvest potatoes". My winter project will be to complete a student-authored book titled "Green House Care Through The Seasons". Definitely reverse-teaching.

The most important aspect of this class,  however is my new knowledge. I am fluent with blogs. If you look at my Coast to Canyon blog, you can see that I have learned how to edit html and use widgets. I have also learned to use Picasa, and in tandem with a Eye-Fi connected camera I am able to update my bogs instantly and effortlessly. Setting the card up as its own network got me around our school filter. My laptop automatically finds the school network once the upload is complete. The most important thing I have learned is how to influence change without scaring or alienating people. Everyone in our school ultimately wants what is best for students, but getting them to make changes involves gentle arm twisting, creating visions and, in my case, lots of patience.

This is my classroom letter blog.
This is my transparent classroom blog.


  1. Laura,

    Your blogs look great! I'm so glad you are where you want to be. And as always - your class activities look awesome!

  2. I have found with my changes I can see kids are kids, teachers are teachers and schools are schools. Some have better ways of doing things.... not better or worse but different.

    You are having them sign up in a Google Apps NOT an open account (technically if you read the EULA they have to be older then 13 with parental permission) a Google Apps setup is a closed system.

    Half your time will be fighting the tech nazi's who to be honest find it easier just to block everything.

    Love your blogs... (on current entry make sure you embed a slide show in the html setting in the post not compose... it will show us the code as it is doing now)

    *you could setup the email... so kids could type up a little description of the day send it to that email (which will go to your blog) then all you do is add the slide show and hit post.

  3. Excellent idea! I had not thought of that capability. You know, not a single student said anything about age limits. Hmm...

  4. They won't. I have to make sure I explain to them why they shouldn't just ignore the age requirements. Second Life for example... it is not a nice place for kids. Problem is we have to teach them this. I give them the first 5 minutes to game/browse web so they can learn how to stop. "Mr. Kelley I just have 1 more level" doesn't cut it. Also if they play games they don't ask for help on how to figure it out (either use game help/directions or as classmate) so when I do a new program they can't just do the "I don't get it" routine.