Towards Greener Pastures

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So, I will admit, I have been a little bit of a Negative Nelly recently in regards to technology in my own Social Studies classroom – speaking both to the cons of technology last week and to examples of schools with no technology the week prior. These posts, coupled with my frustration with cell phones that I continually repeat in our Zoom sessions, have painted a picture of a very cynical teacher, hating technology and the distractions it brings about in the classroom.

This picture isn’t entirely false.

I really admire my fellow colleagues who are particularly optimistic and excited about incorporating technology into their classrooms, like Kyle with his BYOD initiative. This is one of the reasons I really enjoy these master’s classes, and one of the reasons I am particularly happy we decided to do this directed reading course together – I am more inspired to try new things and look at the positives after I meet with everyone Tuesday evening. My natural, at times cynical, self is better after we meet and address the possibilities with technology and how it can be functional in our classrooms.

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So onward and forward into an area of positivity! For our interesting finds topic this week, I really wanted to delve into one blog in particular – Alice Keeler‘s Teacher Tech Blog. She is a Google Certified Innovator and blogs often about Google Classroom, the Google Apps for Education, and an abundance of other pro-tech ideas. From blog posts about how to use Google Sites (which I honestly didn’t know existed!), to reasons to put things online, to suggestions to avoid the regular old worksheet, there are a lot of interesting ideas on this blog, even though it is very google-centred.

I overheard a student the other day say “My teacher could be replaced by a YouTube video.” – Alice Keeler

I think this is an area of interest for teaching in the 21st century, considering there are multiple educational YouTube channels and Khan Academy videos teaching a variety of Math concepts. I actually had a similar conversation with students last semester – ones who struggled with Foundations 30 in class, so they would go home and teach themselves using YouTube videos, which is how they ended up passing the class (in their opinion). So, does that mean we can be replaced by YouTube videos?

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As Keeler notes in her blog post, the ‘traditional’ way of teaching has become obsolete because of the advancements of technology – just like a variety of other areas impacted by the increase of technology. This doesn’t mean teachers are obsolete, but it does means our past teaching styles are. We need to evolve with our society and not ignore what is happening around us. We can no longer simply share information – as Keeler states in her blog, ‘Information is free. I do not need a teacher to give me information. I can look that up’. However, a teacher’s impact is still valuable in the feedback they give, the learning environment they create, and the relationships they make with their students. These are the areas in which we should focus our attention, and not the direct transmission of information from teacher to student. We have learned of this before in our previous #eci classes – the idea of connectivism as a learning theory to follow in our 21st century – and it evidently still holds true.

What lesson do you teach that is NOT on YouTube? – Alice Keeler

So I started thinking back at my own Social Studies lessons. I have spoken previously of the heavy content in the un-renewed curricula of Social Studies 10 and Social Studies 30, and sometimes I find myself simply teaching the information in these 300+ page curricula. However, this is all information that can easily be found on YouTube. In fact, with videos from Crash Course history, CBC Canada: A People’s History, and Heritage Minutes, most of the information in the curricula can be found online. So, what am I doing in my classroom? Why are my lessons so content based?

To renew interest in my lessons – and to become less obsolete – I need to focus more on the ‘how’ of acquiring information, rather than the ‘what’. I look back and think that my French Revolution, my Industrial Revolution, my Imperialism, and my Berlin Conference simulations are all things that can’t be shared in a YouTube video – experiences cannot be simulated as efficiently through YouTube videos as they can in an actual classroom.

But where does technology come into play?

Designing for student engagement, planning for collaboration, creating COMPLEX questions for students to answer, planning on how students will receive timely and meaningful feedback (it does not have to be from you by the way!), incorporating current events, trends and things kids care about, finding new ways for students to creatively demonstrate the learning objective, planning on how we will interact with the students, meaningfully incorporate technology so that it improves learning not just make it paperless, addressing the unique learning needs of each student in the room. – Alice Keeler

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Technology can also help with finding those meaningful ways of providing feedback and ways for the students to creatively demonstrate the learning objectives. One of my favourite blog posts on Alice Keeler’s blog is And Here is Your 5000th Poster AssignmentIn this blog post, Keeler notes the fact that throughout their entire student career, students will continually be asked to do similar projects, i.e. posters. Completing the same project over and over can be incredibly tedious and it doesn’t challenge the students to think outside of the box and develop new skills. In her blog post, Keeler offers a variety of new suggestions instead of a poster, many of which I am excited to try in my Social Studies classroom. For example, she suggests getting kids to use Google Tours to highlight 7 wonders of the world as they pertain to the classroom. Students could highlight 7 important Canadian battles in World War I and World War II for Social 30, or their own version of the 7 wonders of the ancient world in Social Studies 9 (which I am picking up for the first time next semester – if you have any ideas or suggestions for this course it would be greatly appreciated!). There are a variety of ways one could use this activity for a different types of lessons, and it is much more engaging than yet another poster assignment. This is but one of the many suggestions Keeler has in her blog post to use technology in the classroom to make it more engaging and valuable for students.

These are a but a few of her blog posts – there are a variety of others that offer suggestions for technology incorporation as well as tutorials for a plethora of Google apps and websites. There is a heavy Math focus in her blog, so I would highly suggest it for Math teachers. However, as you can see, her suggestions can be applied to a variety of settings, and they really make you reflect upon your own teaching style and techniques, and what you can improve to no longer be considered ‘obsolete’. She also frequently uses the twitter hastag #stealedu to share other ideas that she finds particularly inspiring – I now frequently check out this hashtag and encourage you to do the same!

What do you think of the state of education? Are teachers obsolete? Have we challenged our students enough with differing assessments? What more can we do with technology to improve our learning outcomes? All ideas and suggestions are always welcome!

P.S. In my readings this week, I also really enjoyed reading the Cult of Pedagogy blog by Jennifer Gonzalez – I have been following her on Twitter for quite awhile and she has some really great blog posts. My favourite so far is The Fish-Eye Syndrome – if you have any time to spare, I highly suggest you check it out!

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9 Responses to Towards Greener Pastures

  1. I definitely don’t think that teachers are obsolete! Yikes, such a scary thought.
    In Math, there are always going to be students who need more time and practice to understand a new concept. Teachers are pressured to teach the exact same content to groups of students who learn and understand very differently. Really, having the option to watch you tube videos to support learning is a bonus that many students didn’t have before.
    There are never easy answers to the everyday challenges teachers face and I don’t think it will ever get easier, simply because everything changes too fast!
    Great post Elizabeth!

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    • Thanks Jen! I was actually talking about this the other day with my family – the debate whether or not there should be standardized things to learn in each grade, or if the Montessori approach is more favourable. Everyone learns differently, like you said, and it does become difficult, especially in classes like Math, where everyone needs to learn the same content. However, I wouldn’t say this is necessarily bad either. It was a heated debate, that’s for sure!

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  3. As you mentioned in class this week, we need to evolve with technology and sometimes that is a challenge. Very true, I think as educators we need to stay up to date on technology, which is hard when we are overloaded with things already and with no support or professional development to help us makes it difficult. With more support, professional development opportunities, access to resources tools etc. I think it would make life easier for all! great post this week!

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  4. Kyle DuMont says:

    Great post this week. I’m loving the Keeler posts you are referencing. So refreshing to read after my dive into Stager last week. She is much more my speed. As for teachers becoming obsolete… Just not plausible. even with Youtube, and Khan Academy, along with all the other sites, students still need someone guiding them how to learn. I love finding great videos to help me teach the content, but without us as their guides, students would be lost in the world of the interweb.

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    • You have a really good point Kyle – it brings me back to university when they ask you to make a metaphor for teachers, and often students will reference teachers as Wilderness Guides, leading students down the right path, although everyone’s path may be different. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. joriegilroye says:

    What resonates with me is Alice Keeler point that “the ‘traditional’ way of teaching has become obsolete because of the advancements of technology – just like a variety of other areas impacted by the increase of technology. This doesn’t mean teachers are obsolete, but it does means our past teaching styles are.” -I am thankful that our class pushes us to expand thinking and look for new resources to meet the needs of today’s students. I can’t wait to hear how your social studies class evolves with your new knowledge. Great post!

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