This morning I gave a nerve wracking presentation at the aforementioned conference for Mount Royal University. I am truly impressed that Mount Royal devotes so much time and effort into developing collaborative teaching and learning scholarship, but I admit I was nervous to be presenting among such esteemed colleagues.

I had worked on my presentation for over a week, often while “Cars 2” played in the background. Life with a three year old is nothing if not interesting. And I continued to work on it long after I had returned to my hotel room…

But I am happy to say the presentation went well. Very well, in fact. That is largely due to an amazing and supportive audience, who were cheering me on the entire hour. Better still, I was able to make some great contacts, including individuals who were willing to help me push some boundaries at my current position.

I walked to Starbucks after my presentation and the Remembrance Day ceremony, practically floating on air. Did this mean I was officially an academic?

Possibly. But I think I need to finish the thesis first!

So today I decided to get students to use their phones for good instead of evil. The look of pure shock when I asked them all to take out their cellphones was thoroughly enjoyable. I was using the website PollEverywhere, which allows students to text in responses to a question, multiple choice or open-ended, to a number, and then those responses are displayed on a computer screen, or in my lucky case, a SMARTboard.

The purpose of this was to determine what kind of rubric they would like to see used on their imperialism project. We looked at three different rubrics, categorizing them by what each of them tended to focus on. Then, I asked them to select the one they preferred, and text the number of the rubric to me. Being no strangers to texts (the average teenager sends over 100 texts per day), they quickly responded. I however, was unprepared for the responses:

“rubric 1”
“2”
“hi david”
“rubric 2
“kyron is a loser”

Hmmm. I suppose I could attribute the off-topic responses to the fact that this was a completely new experience, and they wanted to test it out. Or perhaps it was too easy, and they quickly found it boring. Or perhaps they are simply teenagers.

My resolve, however, remains undeterred. Next up: a field trip, where we use the cameras on our phones to take images for an upcoming presentation…

I’m not really talking about the end of the world, but I am talking about the end of life as I used to teach it. I have been slowing moving towards critical thinking and student led learning, and have been using as much technology as I could for the past two years. But this year just seems different.

Why? Honestly, Twitter plays a huge role. Somehow, without even knowing it, I signed up for Twitter and found the best PD I’ve ever had. And I have wound up with a PLN that is amazing, supportive, and full of fantastic ideas. Add to that my current role as a Master’s student at Royal Roads University, where I have been able to learn and collaborate about the role of technology in learning.

So what is going to be different? Well, a few things:

1. I will not be the hardest working person in the room. I have often failed at believing in the abilities of my students, and I wind up doing most of the work. But it’s time to hand over the reins to the people that deserve them – the students. I have been getting a lot of inspiration from the podcasts on iTunes U, and I have been listening to them as I enjoy these last few days of warm summer sun.

2. I will connect with parents on a more consistent level. My secret weapon? WordPress! The past few years I have hosted my own website, but it was limited in functionality, and difficult to modify on the go. Using a blog on WordPress, I can update my blog on my phone while supervising 900 teenagers eating their lunch. As long as I can block out the sounds of 900 students eating lunch.

3. I will reach out to other teachers in my school who are interested in using technology. While I am lucky to have one or two other members of my own department who are interested in technology, the other 6 or 7 are getting ready to use their textbooks and overhead projectors. But I think there are about 4 or 5 others who might be game to look at other options.

4. I will lead by example. I truly believe that technology can really impact learning in a positive light. It just makes sense to work with something that is a huge part of students’ lives already. So I am going to get students to text their answers in class, use their video capabilities on their smartphones for content creation, and begin to blog. I am going to try and flip a few classes, so that we can spend more class time on debates and projects, and less time on lectures.

So bring on the end of my old teaching style! I will keep you updated…

Ah, the last few days of school. The time when marks are in, textbooks have been collected, and you find yourself with time to actually go out for lunch or grab a coffee. Heaven.

And there is also time to chat with fellow colleagues, a veritable luxury during the rest of the year with its ridiculously busy schedule. The topic of Twitter came up, with most teachers suggesting it was yet another waste of time. How can one possibly say something meaningful in 200 characters? It must be nothing but teenagers commenting on something useless…

Unfortunately for me, I was not there that day. But had I been at the table for that discussion, I would have definitely spoken up. Because for me, Twitter has made such a positive impact in my life. And it is actually only 140 characters, which does require a judicious selection of words, particularly for the excessively verbose (like me).

I admit, I was initially hesitant to sign up for Twitter. I didn’t fully understand it, but I knew other educators used it. And I was relieved to discover that it is fairly easy to figure out. I created an account, and then started to look for people I might want to follow. It’s easy to find them, as they usually have their twitter name or a twitter button on their blog or webpage. From there, you can begin to follow them. Often, people retweet others who have said something significant. You can then begin to follow those people. I found many of the 100 educators I follow by looking at my first few tweeters and who they followed.

I also search certain hashtags. Because I am working on a thesis about using mobile learning in a Social Studies classroom, I search both Social Studies, and mobile learning. And from there I can choose to follow the people who make meaningful contributions to those discussions.

What is also helpful is looking at the profiles of those who you follow, because they often have a link to their own webpage or blog, and that is often like finding a buried treasure.

So for me, Twitter has become the best professional development tool, bar none. It certainly beats Teachers’ Convention, which in Calgary means both paying the highest parking fees in North America to park downtown, and braving the often SUB zero February temperatures to attend sessions that may or may not be a good fit for what you are interested in pursuing.

So come September, I think its time to have a chat with my fellow colleagues, and show them just what they are missing. Would I use Twitter in the classroom? Probably. Luckily for me, there are dozens of people who have forged ahead with Twitter in the classroom, and have tweeted about it – so when I do decide to use Twitter with students, I have their experience to draw from.

So thank you, Twitter. You are making my professional career so much more enriched.

So the research I have just begun for my thesis is starting to take me in all directions. When you begin to do some preliminary research, it is SO easy to wander off track as you discover new ideas. What startled me initially was the fact that several of the journal articles I have been reading suggest that Social Studies teachers are in fact the most reticent when it comes to using technology. What?

Then I started to reflect. In fact, I have to admit that the rest of my department (with the exception of the brilliant Darren Ward) seem to look at technology like it may give them leprosy. For many Social Studies teachers, that textbook fits the bill. But, as John Sutton Lutz from the University of Victoria points out, asking students to learn from old mediums is a bit like asking them to get into a Porsche, but insisting they can only read the manual…

So true. Students these days use technology from sun up to far, far past sun down. On the way to school, if they take a bus, they might help out a fellow student who is struggling with calculus and called out for help on Facebook. They make plans for lunch using text messaging or even Twitter. Then they get to class, sit down, and with a sigh, pull out their textbook that is undoubtedly 5 years old and is, well, dry.

There HAS to be a better way. Enter mobile learning. I am convinced that mobile learning will continue to grow exponentially, and that there IS a role for it to play in Social Studies. My plan? To work on a thesis about encouraging historical thinking in Social Studies through mobile learning. Why?

1. The best part of mobile learning is that it is mobile. No more trying to access overbooked computer labs, or resigning yourself to the whiteboard in your classroom. It is possible to have students learn anywhere…
2. …and anytime! Students can continue learning long after the bell has rung. Sure, it is possible to do so using home computers, but students could even check out videos or listen to podcasts on the bus, or in Starbucks (where they would bump into me, most likely).
4. It’s cheap. Well, for school boards, that is. And in this age of budget cutbacks, that has to be good. My school is comprised of students from every conceivable income bracket, but mainly from the middle class. And I would estimate that the number of students with an iPod Touch or smartphone would be at at least 60% at this point. That would mean that there would most likely be one mobile gadget for every two or three students – and that’s all I need. Sure, I plan to harass my school board incessantly until they buy me a class set of iPod Touches or (and I’m dreaming big here) iPads, but in the meantime, I could use what is already available. And many mlearing experts predict that in a few years, almost everyone will have a smartphone. Even my mother is planning on getting one…
5. It is a content generator. Sure, it’s always helpful to have something that disseminates information. But students learn far more when they are able to take that learning and make it meaningful for themselves. Cognitively speaking, it’s vital to get students seeing, hearing, and interacting with information. Mobile technology can allow students to record podcasts, shoot videos, and take pictures. The mind gets dizzy with the possibilities…

So the plan is to do some research on the value of mobile learning, and attempt to link it to historical thinking, a key component of the high school Social Studies curriculum. My goal is to focus on World War One, and develop some strategies that could be tested on local Social Studies teachers. Hopefully, it can help bring a technology discussion to what are apparently the school’s most reluctant techies..

LRNT 505 is nearing its end, and the final assignment is due tomorrow. I think it has been an interesting course – different, but good. The ability to test drive your newly learned ideas within the course was something I really enjoyed. Mind you, seven weeks of seminars left me a bit cross-eyed!

But before that course ended, a new one began – INDS510. So I spent one week trying to jump between the two, but failing miserably.

But this is the start of my next adventure – the thesis (cue imposing music).

And I’m a little worried. Did I really sign up for this? Yes, I did. The major appeal is that I will now have a year to really focus on an area of interest. And I don’t mind writing, as this blog should attest to. But a thesis is definitely a step up from what I am used to. Sure, I did an undergraduate thesis for my Honours degree, but that was only a wimpy 85 pages on agrarian political movements in the American midwest in the 1860’s… this new thesis is definitely a whole new kettle of fish!

And I hope it’s not too smelly…

Okay, I just need to get this down on paper. My DH (dear husband/damn husband) showed me an app the other day that reads “tags” – they resemble some sort of black and white crazy maze. Apparently, you hold your phone up to one of these tags, and instantly you get a text message or are transferred to a website. Companies have started to use tags in advertising. Just yesterday I saw a tag on a magazine page advertising IUD’s…maybe technology and birth control are a good match.

So then my brain started working. How can I use tags to my benefit in a classroom? So here’s what I have so far…

1. Plot a scavenger hunt course around my school, incorporating all historical elements. Our school was started in 1912, but stopped because of WWI. And there are some local heroes from our school, like WWII flying ace William McKnight…

2. Plan the text messages that would appear when students located a tag, instructing them to go to their next location.

3. Ask students to load the tag-reading app on their smartphone or iPod touch, either at school using our pathetic wireless network, or at home.

4. Set up the tags – will have to figure out how to make them first, I guess!

5. On the day – which hopefully is the first day of our 2nd unit which looks at the darker side of nationalism (war, Hitler, Stalin, etc.) get students into groups of 3 or 4 so that each group has at least one mobile device.

6. Send them off one group at a time, and keep track of how long it takes them to complete the course. They will have to show me their mobile device so I can assure they received the text messages in the correct order.

How does this foster learning? Not sure it does. But it fosters enthusiasm. And I want these students to see that they are not so different from the students who left our school in 1940 to fight in the war. That it could have been them. I have an entire iMovie on McKnight that I presented two years ago on Remembrance Day – it’ll be great to show, as it has a real emotional focus. I think the purpose is to get students thinking about how nationalism affects lives drastically.

And it goes on. I could use the tags again when we head to the Military Museums here in Calgary (which are amazing, by the way. I was pleasantly surprised). I could use the tags to ask students to photograph something that was meaningful to them, or get them to text me back an answer to a question.

Hey…I could even put up a tag at Starbucks that sent them a text saying, “get back to class!” Except that Starbucks might not like that. So maybe I could put up a tag that send them the message, “Ms. Hone wants a caramel macchiato!”

tag.microsoft.com
Any thoughts? Concerns? Other inspirational ideas?