Monday, October 31, 2011

Ditching Textbooks for Digital

The idea of completely replacing textbooks in an entire school is radical and shocking, but that was exactly what the Vail School District in Arizona did, and the results are very promising. The district started by focusing curriculum on standards, and collected and organized resources based upon meeting those standards dynamically. Instead of, for example, following the strict learn, review, test outline of textbooks, the materials were arranged in a logical fashion to best encourage learning.

The idea of having an English class that uses free online resources to teach reading, writing, and critical thinking makes sense to me. Why would I let a book dictate the flow of my classroom just because I cannot change the text to better suit my students’ needs? Instead, I want to pick and choose what goes into my daily lessons and I want the ability to adapt the lessons based on reflection and feedback. Digital resources meet that need perfectly.

Digital resources are dynamic. In an English class for example, I can choose to have students write papers or have discussions about a video, an audio clip, or even a website that I found online. Textbooks are not capable of providing this level of customization or interaction.

Using digital resources in place of textbooks also cuts costs significantly. According to the article, the Vail school district was able to cut the costs of teaching a single student from $53 to $9. This is hugely significant and that money could be better spend of reintroducing programs such as sports and the arts, the second being tied inextricably to English classes.

Carney, K. (2011). Think Outside the Book. Learning and Leading with Technology. ITSE. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Web 2.0 Tools and ITSE Standards

The first tool is a website called Engrade. Engrade is an online grade book that has a number of benefits for both the teacher and the students. The first and most obvious benefit is accessibility from anywhere for both teachers and students. There is more to Engrade than just grades, however. It also offers a homework calender that students and parents can access so they are always aware of due dates and assignments, it is a place for online discussions between students, it is totally free, teachers and administer online quizzes, and it is free of advertisements.

I could go on and on about Engrade's benefits, but I'll just leave it there and explain how it meets the NETS-T standard three, "Model Digital-Age Work and Learning." By promoting the online access of grades, course materials, and class discussion, teachers model working and learning in a digital environment. Teachers will show students the benefit of using digital tools to streamline and expand class activities. Additionally, communicating with parents through digital channels will, "communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital-age media and formats."

The second tool is called Animoto, a web based slideshow maker whose products can be sent to friends and family through email. It is very similar to programs like Apple's iMovie, albeit less powerful. However, this simplifying of the process in creating slide shows could actually be of benefit in the classroom, and the fact it is a web based tool means that students and schools do not need to invest thousands of dollars in Apple's hardware.

Students learning to use Animoto would fulfill the first NETS-S standard, Creativity and Innovation, by teaching  them to use digital tools to express themselves. The actual requirement states that students should be able to, "create original works as a means of personal or group expression," and creating captivating and personal multimedia presentations to share with others certainly fulfills that requirement.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Disabled Bodies, Able Minds Response

I find the range and new abilities of technology assisted learning to be incredibly heartening. Not only does the technology allow students to communicate and facilitate learning, which I knew, but also is allowing students to fully participate in extracurricular activities like playing an instrument in the school band.  It is unlocking new avenues for disabled students that not only allow them to be at school, but fully experience school, that signals that assistive technology is finally maturing into something truly amazing.

Diane Curtis, the author, says that the high costs of assistive technology for students should be considered irrelevant compared to the huge benefits they provide disabled students, and I would agree with her opinion. The students they are referring to possess minds which are just as capable as physically normal students, and to deny them an equitable education goes against the principles of public schooling. I found the article to be very enlightening!

Here is the Original Article, by Diane Curtis

Digital Storytelling

The process of making a digital story seems to cover a number of desirable classroom outcomes such as the entire writing process, searching for materials online, using digital tools such as media creation programs, and encourages a community in the classroom through sharing the final products. After reading the article, "Capturing Stories, Capturing Lives: An Introduction to Digital Storytelling" by David Jakes, I hope to introduce my students to digital stories as part of my English classroom. 

I'm very excited to see a practical and useful digital project that meshes perfectly with the learning requirements for an English class. The writing portion, which requires the full writing process, and the trimming process that reduces a large story to a shorter script, will be very effective in teaching students how to write concisely-- a skill very desirable at the university and professional level. 

Jakes, D. (2006, December 29). Capturing Stories,Capturing Lives. An Introduction to Digital 
Storytelling. In Jakesonline! Digital Storytelling. Retrieved October 11, 2011, from