Friday, October 26, 2012

Collaborative Assignments on Google Docs

I admit, I probably hurt this particular assignment by waiting until almost the last possible second to do it.  If I had started earlier, I could have interacted more with everyone else's contributions which is probably the point.  That said, even coming in late, I could definitely see the benefits of using a shared document for collaborative assignments.  I particularly like that you can click on "See revision history" (under the file document) and see not just who wrote when but see exactly what they added or changed highlighted in the text.  That's super useful for something like this when there's more than a couple of people working on something and it might not be immediately obvious what changes were made.  Ideally, there would be more communication between team members - judging by the history, most of us did our piece and then most left things as they were - but the potential is obvious.

I really love the idea of using shared documents in class.  I think it's a really neat tool for students who maybe aren't as outspoken or confident enough to assert themselves in a group.  By opening a document for everyone in the group to use, a student can type his or her ideas right in.  Once an idea has been contributed, if it's good, most other students will go along with it.  I mentioned on the discussion board last module that a friend and I used to occasionally use Google docs to co-write blog posts for our Sabres blogs.  In addition to making changes to the actual text, we communicated with each other with little notes.  Things like "Do you think we need more here?" or "This part seems wonky" or even "HOLY CRAP, THIS IS FUNNY!"  While we did it mostly for the sake of convenience - it was like combining email and editing in one - it's another way to make group assignments easier for less confident or less outgoing students.  I might even encourage students to give each other feedback in the document, commenting on things they like or offering some constructive criticism about things they think aren't working or aren't clear.  While kids do eventually need to learn to talk with each other, it might be easier to ease them into that.  I'll definitely use Google Docs in some way or another in my classroom.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Webquests and AT

Back when I worked at Baker Victory Services (as a classroom aide), we used webquests a couple of times with our students.  We had third graders do a short webquest on Charlotte's Web which we were reading together at the time.  We set it up as a treasure hunt of sorts.  "Go to this page and find the name of the author and the title of one other book he wrote," that kind of thing.  Most of our kids didn't have access to computers at home and weren't very comfortable with computers so it was a good way to slowly introduce them to Internet research.  They got experience with things like clicking on links, moving from one page to another, finding information on a page, but there were enough parameters that it wasn't too overwhelming.  The webquest was a way of holding their hands a bit and guiding them along rather than just saying, "Here's the Internet, find this information, go!"  I think webquests would work well for students with various special needs for kind of the same reason.  They're pretty adabtable.  It would be easy to create a webquest that presents information in different ways - text, images, charts and tables, videos - and it wouldn't be too hard to give students slightly different webquests depending on how much information they can handle at one time.  I think they're also a fun way of doing research, something that can be pretty boring even for the best, most focused students.

As for the webquest we did for class, I thought the information was really interesting.  I sometimes found the information a little confusing though and I wasn't always sure what exactly to document in the notes.  The high number of broken links did make it harder and a little frustrating at times.  I was generally able to hit Google and find what looked to be similar information to what might have been in the link, but since I didn't create the webquest, I wasn't sure if the information matched completely or not.  Obviously, when creating a webquest or re-using a webquest, I'd check for broken links.  Even knowing there were going to be broken links and knowing how to get around them, I found it annoying when I ran into them.  For a younger student, especially one with special needs, that could be enough to throw them off the assignment completely.

I don't really know much about AAC and AT so I thought that reading was really interesting.  The things that technology can do now are mind-boggling.  Machines that can read someone's eye movements and tell what letters or symbols they're looking at?  That sounds like something out of a crazy sci-fi movie.  It is good to know, as a special education teacher, that there's almost assuredly an answer to every child's needs out there if you know where to look and you know where to find equipment and funding.  I was especially interested in all the portable devices that involve pictures and symbols to help students with speaking difficulties express themselves.  I'm very curious about students with autism and I could definitely see how those things would be useful with kids on certain parts of the spectrum.  There was one device I found during the webquest that the child actually wears around his waist and I thought that was so cool.  Rather than being locked into classroom use, something like that could be used for things outside of the classroom as well, things like specials, meals, and field trips.  I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about this kind of technology.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Social Media in the Classroom

I think this was the most interesting module so far. Like most people these days, I'm a big user of the Internet and social media and I find the idea of using those things in the classroom to be really cool and potentially very innovative. I particularly love the idea of class blogs. Giving students a way to share their thoughts and ideas with more people than just the teacher could be so beneficial and even fun for the students. The ability to discuss class subjects on a blog could also be really helpful for kids who are a little intimidated by the idea of giving feedback to a peer or asking adults questions. I really love the idea of every student having his or her own space.

When Facebook is brought into the discussion, my feelings do change a bit. I definitely see the possibilities. I read "100 Ways You Should be Using Facebook in Your Classroom" and there were some neat ideas there. I particularly liked the idea of having students pick a favorite character from a book the class has read and creating a Facebook page for that character. It's a different way of doing a character study, one that I think most students would really enjoy. I also think using Facebook groups to create a class page, one that can be accessed by students or students and parents, is intriguing. I can see how something that is based in a technology that a lot of kids and parents already use would get more looks and interaction. You can do all the things a class group does on a class blog or through something like ANGEL, but you have to hope students check in regularly. Most people I know who use Facebook use it a lot which means class-related information is right there all the time.

I see more negatives with Facebook than some of the other platforms. Sarah Steward hits on my immediate concern about Facebook in "Just to Let You Know... Facebook Does Not Have the Ability to Cure Cancer, Solve Global Warning, or Make You a Better Teacher" when she writes, "Ask yourself is it ethically responsible to insist that your students have a Facebook account when there are clear concerns about confidentiality and what Facebook does with personal information." Many students and parents have put aside these issues and already have Facebook accounts, but some haven't. If they don't have a Facebook account - whether it's for similar concerns or some other reason - I feel that's really a decision they should make themselves. I'm not very comfortable with the idea of making Facebook membership a requirement for class. As neat as some of the ideas we read about are, the majority of them can be done through a different platform, one that doesn't require so much personal information.

While it's not something I'd thought of, I also thought her point about the intermingling of school and personal life and how some kids might resent that was an interesting one. I hate having work and school emails come to my personal email address and use a different address for the three things if I can. I can see how, as a teenager, I might not like getting notifications about more school stuff when I really just want to tell everyone that I dumped my boyfriend or post some pictures from the party last weekend. I also wonder if it's a good idea to have educational things tied in with something that's such a time suck. When I sign in to ANGEL, the only thing on the screen in front of me is school-related stuff. When I sign into Facebook, school notifications will be mixed in with new pictures of my nieces and nephews, messages from friends and family, and links to things I want to read. Even now as an adult, I know I'd struggle with having the discipline to focus when signed into my Facebook account. It seems like it would be even more challenging for a young person.

But while I think I would ultimately come down on the side of not using Facebook in the classroom, there are definitely some really fun possibilities for it. One of my favorite things in school was when we did a unit on various Presidents. A teacher could assign each student a President, have them do some research, and then use that research to create a Facebook page/profile for that President. Biographical information can be used to fill out the profile, career accomplishments can be listed, and Presidents can friend political allies or other Presidents that shared similar ideologies. I also really like the idea of occasionally using a Facebook group page for class discussions. I was a smart student who generally found class discussions interesting, but I was also on the shy side and didn't always feel comfortable voicing my opinion. Discussions via Facebook give kids who are more comfortable and confident in writing a different way to express themselves and it gives the teacher a better idea of how much those students do or don't understand about the subject material. EDIT: I have par