Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Course Reflection

After eight weeks focusing on the relationship between technology and learning, I’m more excited than ever to incorporate it into my classroom.  Starting this MET program wasn’t without challenges, however.  The steepest part of the learning curve for me was getting reacquainted with scholarly research, writing and referencing.  Online search engines have made certain aspects of research easier, but sifting through hundreds of articles to find relevant work threatened to drive me crazy.  I learned, however, that rarely has research been conducted on the exact topic or in the particular way that you’re seeking.  As Dr. Haskell mentioned in his post, because these research “silver bullets” almost never exist, one must move forward with the available studies, aware of the limitations it puts on the strength of your conclusions.

Of the six artifacts produced in this course, I’m most proud of the work I did surrounding the Tech Trends assignment.  My research into virtual labs revealed a bevy of new websites offering top-notch simulated laboratory experiences for science students.  I created a lesson plan for my AP Chemistry students around a virtual lab activity on chemcollective.org.   The lesson included a student handout, an instructional screencast and a post-activity survey.  My primary instructional goal this upcoming year is to provide my students with more authentic opportunities to construct their own knowledge about the natural world.  This assignment is the first of many using virtual labs that will allow me meet this goal, and the one that I suspect will have the greatest impact on my students this upcoming year.  

Link to EdTech501 Syllabus 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

School Evaluation Summary

School Evaluation Summary: “Incognito Academy”

The technology evaluation presented here is based on the Maturity Model Benchmarks created by Peter H.R. Sibley and Chip Kimball.  It views a school’s level of “technology maturity” through five filters: Administrative, Curricular, Support, Connectivity and Innovation.  After comparing a school’s current conception and use of technology against the Maturity Benchmarks, each filter is rated as either Emergent, Islands, Integrated or Intelligent.  This systematic approach produces a very comprehensive and informative technology use profile that can be utilized to drive improvement.

Using the Maturity Model Benchmarks to evaluate “Incognito Academy” led me to the conclusion that, overall, my school ranks relatively high (Integrated) despite lacking a formal technology use plan and a formal training program for teachers.   Even without clear guidance or significant support, teachers have integrated technology quite extensively throughout their curricula.  Informal tech support groups have formed among staff and in-house technology workshops are held on professional development days, providing less tech-savvy teachers with opportunities to learn and advance their skills.   However, future efforts and resources need to be focused in two areas before “Incognito Academy” can transition from Integrated to Intelligent: guidance and professional support. 

- The School Evaluation Summary can be found here
- The Maturity Model Survey results can be found here

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Tech Trends

As a science teacher, the advent of virtual laboratories for student use was the tech trend in the 2013 K-12 Horizon Report that I felt compelled to explore.  Few web-based advances have greater potential to re-shape how science is taught than virtual laboratories.  The benefits of inquiry-based labs and activities are myriad: student engagement and accountability levels skyrocket, as do understanding and familiarity with the science process.  The drawbacks, however, are significant enough to prevent most science teachers from adopting an inquiry-only approach in their classrooms.  Most notably, learning this way is costly, as supplies need to be continually restocked and replaced to allow for more student experimentation.  Even with unlimited resources and support, the time-intensive nature of inquiry-based learning requires teachers to “cut back” in other areas of their curricula to accommodate it. 

Virtual labs have the potential to infuse science curricula with more inquiry-based learning opportunities without the negative side effects associated with their counterparts in the physical world.  Cost is no longer an issue, as students can test and re-test without straining the budget.  Second, the time-intensive aspect of inquiry-based investigation is mitigated, as virtual labs are much more efficient and can be conducted in much less time than “wet” labs in the physical world.  Third, the ability to test a large number of variables multiple times more closely approximates what scientists actually do on a daily basis, making some aspects of virtual labs more authentic than the traditional, hands-on weekly science labs that only allow for limited testing.  Finally, virtual labs allow students to conduct experiments that simply aren't possible in K-12 classrooms (e.g. nuclear reactions, cloning, quantum physics, etc.). 

I’ve incorporated online simulations into my classes in the past, but not full-scale virtual labs.  Simulations allow students to manipulate variables in a system to determine cause and effect relationships.  However, the ability to collect data is often non-existent or limited with most simulations, as is the degree to which students can “experiment.”  Virtual laboratories, on the other hand, are much more complex interfaces that empower users with more operational freedom: students have the ability to plan and conduct scientific investigations that generate high-quality data to be analyzed.  The kind and number of decisions students must make closely approximate those in a “wet” lab, thus requiring students to think and act more like scientists. 

The links below represent my first attempt at providing a virtual lab experience for my AP Chemistry students.  After exploring many websites, I settled on a virtual lab produced by the ChemCollective, a project in the National Science Digital Library.  It is designed as a review activity to be conducted at the beginning of the year for my AP students.  It reinforces and extends previous knowledge about reaction stoichiometry.  The activity has three parts:

1. A student handout, which provides the context for the virtual lab as well as a place for them to write a procedure, record and analyze their data.  This handout will be submitted back to the teacher electronically.

2. An instructional video, which shows students how to use the virtual lab.  To do this, I made my first screencast video (with screencast-o-matic).  The link for this video is also embedded within the student handout.

3. A follow-up survey, which collects data from students about their experience using a virtual lab.  The link to this survey is also embedded in the student handout.


Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada V., Freeman, A., & Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC horizon report: 2013 K-12 edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

EDTECH Research

This assignment provided the opportunity for me to research something I've been wanting to look into for some time: How can I utilize technology to increase the frequency and the effectiveness of student communication and collaboration in my AP Chemistry classes? 

What I found certainly suggested that collaborative learning experiences were both extremely beneficial to students and also rather difficult to provide.  Too often is productivity within student work groups confused with collaborative learning and the co-construction of understanding.  Structures must be put in place by teachers to ensure that authentic, co-learning actually happens when students work together.  I'm excited to incorporate these structures into my classes this upcoming year as I explore technology-supported peer review of lab conclusions and collaborative lab reports with my AP students.
Link to Annotated Bibliography


Sunday, July 6, 2014

RSS In Education

RSS in Education
RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, is a tool for aggregating the information found on all of your favorite websites into one convenient, searchable location.  Instead of going from website-to-website daily to search the headlines for news and information that interest you, you “subscribe” to each site to have updated content delivered to the RSS reader of your choice.  Because all of the articles from your favorite sites now reside in one location, the time spent navigating between sites is eliminated, boosting the efficiency of your news-gathering process.

As a science teacher, connecting in-class content to its real world relevance and application is key to keeping students highly engaged in the learning process.  One way to use RSS technology to aid students in making these connections would be to imbed a RSS feed directly into my class webpage.   Because feeds can be tailored to be as general or as specific as the user would like, the filter can be changed frequently to suit the specific topic we are currently studying, e.g. solar power, batteries, molecular structure.  Students could be asked to search the articles to identify connections to in-class content and to present their findings in any number of ways.  Conversely, headlines could be used strategically to engage students in teacher-facilitated discussions on how scientists and engineers currently conceive of and apply the concepts we’re studying in class.  Regardless of how the RSS feeds are specifically incorporated, they will most definitely be a more focused and efficient way to add real world relevance to my classes than the current method of searching websites individually.

RSS feeds can also be used to improve and expand how I use wikis in my classroom.  In the past, I’ve used wikis primarily as a means for students to create collaborative review guides: each student is assigned one or two review questions to answer on a shared document to which they all have editing privileges.    Students would check the document periodically for the updates their peers had made.  However, making such collaborative documents RSS-enabled could fundamentally change how the students receive updates; instead of having to check back for new information, students could subscribe to the site and receive the updates in their RSS reader.  In addition to review guides, this would also improve the efficiency and utility of any sort of collaborative document that can be RSS-enabled, such as online discussions and editable reports and projects.  By lowering the barrier for receiving updates and edits from their peers, RSS technology will hopefully make student collaboration a more organic and authentic aspect of my class.

Finally, I would like to explore how RSS technology might improve the way I notify my students that new instructional videos are available for viewing.    Because I assign instructional videos that I make in combination with those created by other teachers, simply subscribing to my YouTube channel will not update students to all new videos that I would like them to watch.  By creating a RSS-enabled document to which students can subscribe, students will be alerted to any new links that I add, regardless of their origin or location.  This will allow me to continue incorporating videos from a variety of sources and perspectives without sacrificing efficiency. 


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Digital Divide/Digital Inequality

While I was familiar with the concept of the "Digital Divide" before this assignment, I knew nothing of the more nuanced (and increasingly more relevant) notion of Digital Inequality.  It certainly made me think more deeply about the challenges my students face, particularly those that likely lack a strong social support network.  Putting technology into someone's hands doesn't allow them to span the Digital Divide immediately!  I'll certainly try to always remember this in the future, and to provide ample opportunities for my students to seek assistance.

In addition to raising my awareness of student challenges around technology, thinking holistically about my school led me to the conclusion that other members of our community are also experiencing Digital Inequality: our teachers.  In order for our school to meet its goal of producing 21st century graduates capable of using technology effectively, our community will have to move forward together as a more cohesive group.  I will most definitely encourage our administration to provide more teacher training on technology.

In preparing the presentation, I was surprised at some of the advice in "Five Ways to Reduce PowerPoint Overload."  Before reading this, I was definitely of the ilk that "more is better" in terms of the amount of information one should present to the audience.  I tried to avoid "information overload" by putting as many details in my "notes" as I could.  However, I'm not sure I was as successful as I could have been in this regard.  Another difficulty I encountered was centered around the platform I chose: Google Presentation.  I was planning on narrating the slides (reading the notes I added), but discovered that Google Presentation doesn't allow for this yet.  Thus, if given more time to revisit this project, I would focus on two areas to improve it: editing my slides to ensure only the most important information was included and exploring alternative platforms that allow for voice narration to make it more dynamic and engaging.

Digital Divide/Digital Inequality Presentation

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Elements of Educational Technology

            I chose to focus on the significance of the terms facilitating, performance and creating in my Elements of Educational Technology paper primarily because of their breadth in describing how educational technology should be employed and evaluated to ensure it’s having the greatest impact possible on students and teachers.   Narrowing the list of thirteen terms down to three was quite difficult, but I feel that facilitating, performance and creating zero-in on educational technology’s most essential roles in contemporary education, as well as provide guidance for how its users can and should justify its use.   Below is a summary of my thoughts on these terms. 

I. Facilitating
            Much like the national trend described in Educational Technology: A Definition With Commentary, my approach to teaching has shifted dramatically in the last few years: I’ve slowly been transitioning away from the role of content-deliverer to that of learning-facilitator.  It is perhaps the most significant paradigm shift I’ve undergone in my twelve years of teaching science, but it’s something I’ve embraced wholeheartedly because of the profound impact it has had on both student accountability and depth of understanding.  Shifting the onus of learning onto the students by requiring them to analyze the data, make the connections, build the models, draw the conclusions and plan their own laboratory investigations has convinced me that I’m finally now teaching them to think and act like scientists.  I already leverage technology in a number of ways to achieve this goal, and can’t wait to learn more about how current and emerging technologies can help make my transition to learning-facilitator more successful.  For me, this aspect of the reading was reinforcement that I’m on the right path.
II. Performance
            The insistence by the AECT that educational technology should “improve performance” in order to justify its use served as a reminder to me that incorporating technology into my classroom does not necessarily raise student achievement levels if I am merely using it to do the same thing I’ve always done, only in a “shinier” way.    Instead, I should be asking the questions: What steps can I take to ensure that this new technology is improving the depth, scope or efficiency of learning for my students over what I have done previously?  How can I use technology to provide formative and summative data previously not available to me to respond more effectively to students’ needs and to improve my performance as an instructor?

III. Create
            Lastly, I focused on “create” because it highlights the skills I need to build in order to create authentic, robust and effective learning environments for my students as I continue to transition to the role of learning-facilitator.  Both the reading and a recently designed unit on chemical energy has led me to the same conclusion: A significant paradigm shift has occurred not just in how students will be learning in the future, but also in the skill set their teachers must possess.  21st Century educators must also master elements of design and engineering in order to create the educational ecosystems in which students will be learning.  No small task, indeed!