Monday, July 27, 2009

Alternative Assessment: PBL & WebQuests

This week held so many prospects for me. It gave me answers or rather solutions to many pending issues:
-Our students are overwhelmed by written tests and quizzes, and many times their grades come as a shock in comparison with their class performance.
-Our lesson plans often disregard different learning styles, and it is only up to the teacher’s personal effort to cater to one student’s needs or the other. However, such efforts remain personal and are not standardized.
-The opportunities for learning while having fun seem to become minimal.

These have been major concerns for me and my fellow teachers. Now, I believe that PBL and WebQuests provide some answers to our concerns.
1st- They answer the need for alternative assessment as students will have a variety of opportunities to demonstrate what they know and how they have improved.
2nd- Again, both PBL and WebQuests offer teachers the chance to get to know their students’ styles, interests, what they’re good at, and what they find difficult. This one-to-one interaction will make the need to include differentiated learning into our lesson plans more tangible.
3rd- Last but definitely not least, both, but especially WebQuests, would be enjoyable for students. I find that the guidance and the structure that WebQuests offer are appealing to students.

The challenge remains to try as much as possible to prepare projects that fit with the curricular objectives, enhance students’ thinking skills, and call for their creativity.
Moreover, first steps into anything new are usually the most difficult. We need to make that first step into initiating ourselves and our students into a more effective use of the web. Most of our students are connected to the internet, and their parents seek guidance as to how to channel their kids’ exposure to the web. Besides, the administration would be highly supportive of any proposal / method that is well-prepared and that is based on an acclaimed approach. The challenge is ours as teachers who need to make that first step and be as prepared as possible.
Finally, monitoring students’ group work step by step is another challenge. Then again, with the proper planning and checklist or rubric, both the teacher’s job and that of students will become more manageable.

One thing I know for sure is that I am going to be working on the preparation of a WebQuest that would target students’ summer work book!!! I know bringing in that change this year might be difficult, but a proposal needs a sample to back it up :-)!

This week, I have attached a picture of students as they were voting for Jeita Grotto as a candidate for the new 7 natural wonders of the world along with a picture of the grotto. Enjoy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Technology-Enhanced Lessons

I am so late in posting reflections on the topics of week 4 mainly because my posts on Nicenet included many of my reflections. They extended to how a technology-enhanced lesson applies to my teaching context. Still, I would like to summarize them into the following points:

1. Whenever I plan to use technology in class, I have to be well-prepared and sure that such an inclusion serves the objectives of the lesson.

2. I have to involve the students and move away from a teacher-centered class to benefit maximum from the tools used.

3. I have to make sure my students are comfortable so that I don’t confuse them with extra requirements. Technology is used to create a more motivating lesson and to make the learning process more enjoyable not to overload the students.

4. I have to offer variety so that all learning styles are served.

On an even more personal note, the topic made me rethink my commitment to improvement. I feel bad that I could have made better use of the tools available but I haven’t. The issue, in my case, is not only about motivating students but also encouraging other teachers on the team to face the challenge. However, I am resolved to start the “wheel” and keep it turning :-)!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Skill-Building Websites

Using certain websites in the learning process, mainly in the classroom, is just excellent. Often we teachers view certain sites, and we wish our students could be exposed to them. While preparing my post, I had to take into consideration several points:

1st – Since I mostly checked websites that assist students in writing, I could see that a teacher has to be careful about the level of the learners targeted and the topics suggested.

2nd – The writing activities suggested are linked to each other to get to the final product which is writing an essay or creative writing etc. It is a lengthy process, and the teacher has to decide at which point he/she should resort to the website. It has to be the part that coincides or parallels his/her way of instruction. Students shouldn’t be confused about multiple inputs especially at the Middle School level.

3rd – There are websites that are interactive wherein the students can submit their work and expect feedback. It is better for teachers to try them before. Others offer valid and attractive resources. In that case and when it comes to writing, teachers can collect these resources and share them with students on handouts or prepare a PowerPoint presentation that can be very helpful for visual learners. In other words, a teacher has to consider necessity: Can he/she have the same objective acquired by a variety of learners and at the same degree without the assistance of the website? What could a website offer the class that was previously lacking? Putting this in mind would help the teacher decide and choose the right website.

4th – A teacher has to also consider feasibility. There are always logistic problems: in my case, thank God, there is an e-room, but
· it is a recent addition, so we are not used yet to integrating its use in our lesson plans
· it is just one for a huge school, so each teacher has to make reservations beforehand and justify the need
· it is far from the Middle School building so that time is taken out from the teaching period for students to get there

As I was coming up with a learning objective, I was thinking about all the above to see the possibility of using such a method in my classrooms. I am lucky to have the means, so I think it would be a waste if I don't pick up the challenge, do the necessary preparations, and use them. That is mainly why I am taking this course after all.

I added a picture of one of my grade 9 classes wherein students were working in groups, and they could use my laptop to look for pictures and check some words. They would even look for more information if anything in their articles is not clear or incomplete -they were lucky to be in the only classroom that benefited from the wireless connection in the administrative floor right above them!!!!

Effective Web Searching: Google & Beyond

It’s been quite a challenging week in terms of assignments for me. At the end of every post, I’d feel there is more to be done; there is something missing, but then again, that is what makes teaching so captivating.

I did make a list of personal notes which I’m sure will shape my performance from now on. I can call some of them personal strategies:

To begin with, the search engines suggested by the NoodleTools were all new to me. I reminded myself that, like in the “Shaping” course, I should be thinking outside the box, and should be giving most of them a try. Searching the net is already time consuming let alone if you are using a new search engine that has its own specificities and interface. Google has already become familiar and kind of safe. After having gone through most of them, I have to admit I couldn’t evaluate accurately which would be of more use than others. I think I need several trials and authentic situations where the need is real and the objective specific. For that reason, I made sure that most of these search engines are added to my favorites so that I would make it a point to use them on daily basis. That way, I would be more likely to favor one over the other. Already it was obvious to me that some are much more scholarly and helpful than Google.

Moreover, the subject of useful websites was already ongoing in the Discussion Posts. Though there is a number of websites I use often, it was not easy to remember them because I had never thought of making a list of them and jotting down how they are useful. Again, I decided to keep such a record as it is an important skill that any learner/teacher should have.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflections on the CALL course

I was extremely grateful to have the chance to benefit from another online course offered by the UO AEI. However, towards the end of the week, I realized that it was going to be somehow a different experience. We were around 15 participants in the "Shaping" course at a time I believe we are around 30 in this course. It takes me quite some time to keep track of all the posts and comments, and I can't bring myself to skip any. The variety of interventions and backgrounds make each idea and each style quite interesting.

Besides, the topics chosen for the first week have paved the way for a professional interaction with well-set rules to guide the discussion. I also felt that introducing the rubric at this point to assess our work, instead of our students' for a change, was quite a "notable" move.

I am a visual learner who takes in everything, works all material into a "personal" lot within the set frame, before producing my own contribution. Being that way, I am more and more involved into the workings of this course. I can't but be involved in a course that starts in rubrics and self-reflection!! Can't wait for more.

Creating a Blog

I kept postponing creating my own blog because everytime I'd sign in, I'd feel that there were too many instructions and that "posting reflections" is required. I would refrain and postpone mainly because I still have some important deadlines to meet at school.

Then when I decided I shouldn't delay anymore, I put aside all my school work and followed the instructions to the letter only to discover it was quite easy at least to start. Not only was it manageable but interesting. I am attracted to this private/public space, which is close to utilities such as Facebook, but which could be more formal and more controlled.

Then it dawned on me that I have been here before. I just didn't know it. I do have a blog! It is my Hotmail Space, and I did use it for teaching purposes quite unknowingly. For the final action plan in the "Shaping" course, I posted files there with links in the action plan. I once also posted a grading sheet for my students to view and grade their own essays so that we could later compare the grades and discuss the criteria. I also posted descriptive articles for them from travel websites and newspapers to read and improve their writing. I was excited to realize that and eager to know more how I can make better use of this blog for educational purposes.
I attached a picture of myself with my students in an end-of-the-year outing. They look happy to be outside class context. To me, this picture is a reminder that the process is as enjoyable as the end if not more.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Choosing a Title

I so enjoyed choosing a title for my blog. It has been quite some time since I did something so "personal." I would like to share with you how I came to decide on "ONLY CONNECT: Turn Mirrors into Windows."

Teaching and the internet are main focuses in this course, and they're both about being connected to other teachers, students, and latest approaches. Also, "Only connect" is one of the most famous quotations by E.M. Forster, the subject of my ongoing MA thesis. As I was moving from one thought to another with the idea of "connecting" always in the background, my mind drifted to the tragic death of Michael Jackson and his famous, quite meaningful song, "The Man in the Mirror." The idea of the mirror and connecting sounded so paradoxical that I went to Google and typed "education mirror quotes" and clicked on search. I found the following quotation by a journalist called Sydney J. Harris, "The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows." I loved the idea. I thought it was just what I wanted my blog to be: a shift from a mirror to a window.

Hope you'll like it!