Friday, October 5, 2012

NoRedInk - Reponse

Wow!!! What an impressive resource to improve the writing of students! Noredink addresses numerous issues related to effectively building students' skills and takes a drastic step in changing the entire format of learning in an English classroom. 

As a teacher, I have struggled spending hours and hours correcting all of the small grammatical mistakes that seriously hinder students in making clear and comprehensible arguments. Unfortunately, this time is almost always in vain as the vast majority of students' future work is littered with the same mistakes time and time again. To ignore the faults in students' work is a disservice, but what should a teacher do if the standard approach of correcting all errors is entirely ineffective? 

Noredink lets children practice grammatical problems and works to identify their weaknesses so that the teacher can address these points of confusion in addition to giving them a chance to practice. Corrections from a teacher written on an essay are not interactive. Students, if they even spend time looking at the teacher's suggestions, are often frustrated and unable to interpret what it is they have done wrong. Noredink on the other hand gives clear instruction and offers other opportunities to correct similar questions. This tailors the work to the students' needs and relieves the teacher to focus on higher level issues such as formation of concepts or how to write a well structured argument. 

Essays from students can also be utilized in a similar fashion where the mistakes the students make can be input into a format that allows for simple correction from the student so that they can recognize and interact with the corrections being asked for by the teacher. When the teacher reviews the essay a second time, the problem areas are already highlighted so that an entire re-read of the essay is unnecessary. 

I really feel this could be productive for every class. Too many students fail at making comprehendible essays and the current standard for correction is obviously not working effectively for a huge number of students. I hope something like this is adopted at the lower grade levels so that I am not faced with the challenge of teaching elementary grammar when I want to focus on content and structure. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The end of an era

This marks my last post of the semester. I would like to take a second to reflect upon blogging. Being an old man that is grumpy and despises everything in some way, I was not thrilled when I learned we'd have to keep a blog. Thus far, however, it has not been that bad. I often spend great amounts of time writing quirky emails for friends and in ways just an extension of that. I really would like to make my blog a little more interesting and include some photos to supplement my writing.

In our last class, I was happy like most other students to be able to listen to life passed MAC. I am not sure how you selected this group of teachers, but they all seemed exemplary. I really hope that I can live up to their example and be as dedicated a teacher as they have become.

In terms of technology, I was a bit disappointed. I have never heard of internet working with such infrequency or failure of integration. Scarlett's wifi seemed to work quite well and all of their computers were up to spec. Is this a rarity? The kids all seemed very familiar with edmodo and technology in the classroom seemed to be in perfect harmony. Was I missled?! Many of the new tools we have learned about in class are rather new and so I think a few bugs should be expected. Youtube being banished is just silly though. I wish teaching and teaching with technology was just less of a struggle.

Until next time, I hope everyone enjoys our rather short summer break. May it be filled with technology and learning!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Blogging about Blogging

I spent a couple of hours scrolling through the different blogs on Kristin's and Jeff's lists. I was happy to see Nytimes education and tech page as I frequent both for fun reads. I am somewhat of a nytimes junky and dedicate a significant portion of my free time to reading article after article. Unfortunately,  I have never found the nytimes education page to be very inspiring. Most articles pertain to budget cuts and fairly gloomy outlooks for the field. Those are at least the articles that stick out in mind, which might say something about my personality.

I also enjoyed reading a blog called "Speaking of History," which is written by a middle school history teacher. The author seems to share some of my dorky interest and I really enjoyed reading about his trip to Monticello. He had posted a picture of Jefferson's portable ivory journal and it made me want to explore a museum myself and post about some unusual finds.

Looking back through some of his older posts, I found a number of articles about software he uses in his class. I think this would be a great way to stay current with technology once I leave the mac program and find projects/exercises that work. While in Japan I had great success using blogs as a resource of ideas. As I lived in an extremely remote region, I was sort of an island amongst myself. If I wanted to share ideas the best resource was blogs. Many a times my class was saved by a quick search on a blog called jhsenglipediaproject. Games were sorted by lesson topic and rated, which was most useful as lots of stuff out there is terrible. In all, that site saved me hours of prep time and made my class much more diverse than if I had just relied on my own ideas. Sharing information is always beneficial to creating a better product and education is no different.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lauren called me an old man

I am often called skeptical, pessimistic, and all around negative. Despite this I genuinely do not enjoy being such a downer about everything, but having looked over my blog posts I feel as though I must come off poorly. There have been very few things I have written positively about. In my first post, I mentioned that I am not a huge fan of technology in the classroom and after Friday’s class I am still not convinced.

We discussed the usefulness of Skype, Dropbox, Evernote, and Diigo. I have used the majority of these products in my personal life, but feel they would simply become a distraction and clutter my classroom instead of putting it in order. Diigo and Evernote might be useful to keep track of websites or news articles and that would be convenient for me as a teacher, but I feel each service offers just minor improvements beyond saving files on my own computer. Dropbox is handy to share large numbers of photos or video files, but how often would I really be sharing so many files with my class?

Lauren has concluded that the reason I dislike the vast majority of technology is due to my old age. As a 27 year-old geriatric, I fear that I will resist adopting things that my students might find helpful just because they annoy me. In my old-man viewpoint, Dropbox and Evernote are just one additional thing to download, signup for, and eventually forget. I am constantly making new accounts because I cannot remember passwords (sign of dementia) and I know the logistics of maintaining all of these accounts will just drive me insane.

I also fear overloading my students with the requirement of maintaining so many different accounts. I strive for simplicity and integration and having a million accounts I know will just become more of bother than anything. I want substance, not some fancy way of organizing links or notes.

To best adopt the usage of some of these services, the school must first limit the number of tools to just a handful. Secondly, the students should have a single account per tool that can be used for every teacher. If at all possible, I would try and limit everything to either the school’s website or a google account, the most integrated and useful product we have discussed thus far. Google works with a single username and can be used for a number of different tasks. This streamlines everything so the students can focus on the material, which I contest is the first causality of all this new fangled media sharing young people stuff.

Until I see some product really increase productivity and the quality of my students’ work, I will remain an old man. I have to take a balanced approach, however, and accept that times have changed and at least try some of the new products that are out there. 

Monday, July 23, 2012


The thought of having to apply for a job in the current market has cost me more than a few hours of sleep to say the least. I often ponder how exactly I could make my résumé be more attractive to my future employer and really accentuate my strongest attributes. But what are my strongest attributes?! I have never taught in an American high school. I have zero college credits in the subject I will most likely be asked to teach..... 

The list of shortcomings could go on and on, but I have had a number of other experiences in my life which could make me a more interesting candidate than even someone with a few years of teaching under his/her belt. Mainly, I am talking about the five years I spent teaching English in Japan. This offered me tremendous freedom to experiment with my teaching, engage in training seminars, study other cultures, develop foreign language skills, and much much more. On paper, however, these extremely significant events of my life are most likely to be glanced over in a few seconds. No matter how well I written, a few sentence could never sum up the importance that time. 

Therefore I was excited at the idea of creating my own web-based portfolio. I have never made a webpage so the Weebly site was a welcomed first start. With this platform I could upload videos of my classes in Japan or create more elaborate presentations of the teacher training I have partaken.

Secondly, once I become a teacher I can use my webpage portfolio to keep track of additional developments in my career and as a resource for my students. My webpage could have videos from class, links to important supplementary documents, examples of assignments, etc. The possibilities are truly endless. 

The limitations of the Weebly site, however, were apparent after exercising just a few functions. Placement of photos, silly errors, and the like make me really want to learn html, css, and java coding. I have been told that someone with even limited knowledge of computers can pickup basic html coding in a day or two. From this point, I could really fine tune the webpage and make it most functional and attractive. Until I can find time between readings for class to learn the three most important computer languages, I guess Weebly will suffice ;)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Smart Gamer

As a child, my father forbid videogames in our household, which is astonishing if you knew the type of man my father is. My father allowed and at times encouraged the worst behavior in my brother and me. I can remember when I was about ten years old he suggested we set a pile of newspapers ablaze and then to throw an entire packet of bottle rockets into the fire. I will never forget seeing him laughing in the window holding his cup of coffee as we frantically tried to crawl away from the bottle rockets which were whizzing ever so close to our heads. He never fully explained why he was so opposed to videogames. Instead he would simply say, "they're a waste of time," and I have by and large come to the same conclusion as well, which is also astonishing as I have made it my mission in life to defy him in anyway possible.

The TED talk video with Jane McGonigal of course argues strongly the opposite. She claims that skills learned in videogames can be used to solve the largest problems the world currently faces. By making such an outrageous statement that many people would love to be true, she has of course gained a lot of attention. The problem is it is not going to happen. The skills she cites to be strong amongst games, such as epic meaning, are vaguely defined and I can see no way that they will result in tangible results in tackling real-life issues. The games that the vast majority of the world play reward precision of killing on a mass scale. Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular games of all time, simply rewards random acts of violence for the purpose on entertainment. On the other hand, the peak-oil game that she claims can teach people how to conserve fuel and changes peoples' habits, which I find hard to believe, is virtually unknown. Games that teach useful skills have always been and will always be regarded as a joke. They are the sorts of games only your mother would buy you.

Sure, videogames probably exercise a lot of reasoning, but so do sports and a myriad of other things in life. Videogames, however, exist in a virtual world that has been programmed. There are only a limited number of variables to challenge the player. In real life, there are an infinite number of variables, many of which will never be seen in the games people actually play because they are boring, tedious, or simply no fun.

James Gee highlights some good points about games, but stops from making such outlandish conclusions as McGonigal. He asks why we cannot use the principles of gaming in the field of education. I feel this is rational enough, but difficult to do effectively while still retaining the sense of entertainment.

So until I am presented with the most amazing game in the world that a child plays for a couple of house, sets down, and then go outside and uses that knowledge in the real world, I will remain unconvinced.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Class Reflection 三番 and my time in 日本

Just weeks prior to the start of the MAC program, I was living on the southern island of Kyushu in Japan. It was a tropical paradise with turquoise blue waters and lush green mountains. It would be a perfect destination for almost any traveller... But I was not a traveller. I was the sole English speaking teacher in a remote backwater of Japan and my tenor lasted a total of five years. That's a long time to be stuck in paradise with limited communication skills.

During those five year, however, I found many useful tools to help cope. One of the most useful was podcasts! Podcasts helped me stay connected to the English speaking world via NPR and BBC programming. Also, several Japanese language programs greatly advanced my own speaking skills. They made practice easy and convenient as I could perform a lesson anytime, anywhere. They were so useful that I often advised my own students to use podcasts to practice their English, but no podcast was particularly useful to them as the material rarely matched the curriculum taught at school. 

This is why I found Friday's lesson on podcasting to be so exciting and pertinent. If I had taken the initiative to create structured podcast lessons that matched those from classroom textbooks, I strongly believe my students would have practiced their English more often and in a more effective manner. Japanese schools are slow to adapt to innovative teaching techniques and essentially refuse to try anything new that would take away precious time from the pre-prescribed lesson plan. Podcasts, however, can be used by students at their leisure and hence would have taken away no time for traditional instruction. 

While podcasts work quite perfectly within a foreign language classroom, I feel it would be more difficult to integrate their use in a history or social studies class. Although I can see the potential benefits of having my students listen to news reports from around the world or biographies of famous individuals, I strongly contend that it is most important that the information contained in the podcast be relevant to what we are doing in class or I would likely experience the same problems I had in Japan. In order to do so, I would likely have to create my own podcasts, which would require a great deal of time. 

Once the podcasts are made, however, I could use them for several years with little modification. Another alternative might be to have my students make podcasts and have them shared amongst the class as a means of review and deeper learning of the subject matter. Either way, podcasts are a brilliant tool with many functions that I hope to make part of my classroom in the future.