Author: lhmiles2

Podcast #4 – Online Learning vs. The Traditional Classroom

Listen to Podcast #4


As a traditional 8th grade SS teacher by day and an online graduate student by night, I have first hand experience in the ongoing debate of online classes vs. traditional classes.  I have been convinced that online education is the way to go, and then I live, see, and experience the benefits of traditional classes and I’m back on the fence again.  For the sake of discussion, I see a lot of value in both, and I think more than anything it depends on the student and how they lean.  With a great teacher, a traditional classroom for most students is irreplaceable.

Obviously, there is a lot of value in online education.  Online classes provide a unique opportunity that traditional classes do not.  For example, students can access the material at any time.  In online environments, students can work more at their own pace and have much more time to accomplish various tasks.  Various learning styles can be incorporated into the online curriculum so that many students can be successful at the same activity because they are allowed to demonstrate what they learned in a variety of different ways.  The activities have to be student-centered in online learning.  Also, since students are accessing materials using their own computer more often than not resources are not an issue when teaching and learning.  Students can collaborate in unique ways that are more closely related to 21st century workforce skills.  Students can communicate in ways that are more similar to the communication skills needed to succeed in an ever-connected world.

However, even with all of the pedagogical benefits of online learning, as a current classroom teacher I see and experience so many non-educational benefits of the traditional classroom that I have yet to experience as a student in online environments.  Traditional classrooms – with good teachers – instill students with passion, interests, relationship skills, and a host of other attributes that students need in order to be contributors to our society.  I consider these skills and emotions to be a part of the hidden curriculum of traditional education.  For example, teachers teach students to be organized, confident, passionate, compassionate, etc. or at least we try to.  You would be hard pressed to find those skills taught in just about online environment.

Not too mention, students learn to communicate face to face.  They learn how to read one another and know how to respond and act.  They learn how to troubleshoot social situations.  In traditional classrooms, students learn to cope, prioritize, organize, and succeed.  Sure they can experience some of these things in online environments, but it’s not the same.  Seeing a teacher show how proud they are of a student is not as meaningful as reading comments in an online grade book.  Working with other students face to face and physically getting your hands dirty in a chemistry lab is not the same as simulating a lab in a Google Hangout. 

You see online learning does have a long lasting and much needed place in education.  Students benefit greatly in online learning environments and they need to learn those skills, but nothing will be able to replace the intangibles learned in the classroom. 


Just wait…

My school is ready.  The students love ’em.  The teachers are hungry for ’em.  The administration thinks we need ’em. The PTA is buying ’em.  iPads are here.  My school is slowing moving to a tablet-enriched environment.  Sure…we only have 30 iPads and still hundreds of laptops and computers, but we made the switch.  I was in on the conversation.  I helped make the decision.  Heck…I was the loudest voice of moving towards tablets for student use.  So we did.  Our tech team and principal set down, and we hashed out a plan to buy 30 iPads, 30 cases, a charging station, cart, and macbook pro.  This is the biggest decision – both financially and pedagogically – that I have made (and possibly the entire tech team has made) for my school on behalf of students and staff.

So now what?

We wait…we learn…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

The deal was too good too pass up.  We had time-restricted money to spend and the choice was iPads or laptops.  But I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared about the decision we made.  So many times we purchase the next hot item because it’s cool, but we have no idea how to use it or worse yet we have great ideas but are afraid to put in the up-front work.  I’m nervous that these iPads will be just that or teachers will see them as a cure or quick fix.  You see I have done my research, and my team did their research.  We really do believe that tablet computing has a strong place in middle school education.  We see how well it can be integrated into a new common core curriculum full of documents, images, resources, etc.  We see how well it can used to enhance a 21st century classroom that simply lacks resources other than textbooks and 4 desktops.  My team believes that tablet computing can be our answer to moving towards a 1:1 environment.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

As the resident tech guru at my school, I preach to my colleagues and administrators that just acquiring technology such as iPads, clickers, laptops, or smart boards does not instantly improve classroom instruction.  Just like hiring teachers does not mean they will be good teachers.  Lecturing using a projector and lecturing using iPads where students can flip through the slides is exactly the same.  Technology integration is an artform just as project-based learning and flipping the classroom are artforms.  You cannot just add in iPads and expect magic to happen.  Learning will not improve unless you are prepared to put in a little TLC.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

There’s no reason to rush into this.  It’s a marriage.  Technology isn’t going anywhere, and tablet computing has proven it’s place in society and in the classroom.  That’s why it’s important to wait, learn, study, plan, create, and wait.  Our students have to wait for their teachers to be ready to use the iPads.  As a staff, we have to study and put in the time to know what it means to teach in a 1:1 environment and use tablets as effective vehicles of learning.  Our administration team has to plan for the direction we are moving as a school.  Tablets in the classroom are very different from laptops and smarts boards and we need an instructional plan.   As a tech team, we have to create appropriate and meaningful staff development to help our staff feel ready to use iPads effectively and with minimal setbacks.  As a school, we have to wait.  It’s important to wait to make sure we have 100% buy-in.  It’s important to wait to ensure we use the iPads to the best of our abilities and to benefit our students in the best ways.  It’s important to wait, study, plan, and create so that we can teach.

Wordpress – Why It’s More than Just Web 2.0

Ever since my college days, I have been an avid user of WordPress.  Some might say I am a WordPress fanboy.  I currently host my personal blog on WordPress (the one you are reading).  Trust me…any avid reader of my blog knows that I have experimented with multiple hosting solutions for this blog, but I always come back to WordPress.  It’s the best solution out there in my opinion.

In addition to my own personal use, I have been using WordPress at my school for the past 3 years.  About 3 years ago, a colleague – who I have seemed to mention a lot lately – came to me about the idea of using WordPress Mu to host our school website and provide websites to teachers and students.  Prior to that conversation, my colleague and I recently attended NCTIES and listened to @samandjt give a talk about how he had launched WordPress Mu at his school and his teachers, students, and parents were reaping the benefits.  Needless to say, when @mrscienceteach approached me about piloting WordPress Mu at our school, I was hooked.

Since WordPress Mu was incredibly successful, WordPress Mu is no longer a separate WordPress project and they dropped the Mu.  The same process is now referred to as Multisite or MS.  I believe that WordPress is one of the many tools (like most other blogging platforms) that students should have a basic of understanding of by the time they leave school.  In the past, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were the three main tools we taught students, but now teachers should be showing their students multiple creative tools such as WordPress to help students showcase what they have learned and how they have applied it.

At my school, we currently use WordPress as a our homepage as well as for teacher websites.  Of course, there are a few teachers who are resistant to WordPress and continue to use other website tools like SchoolNotes, but those that have bought in love it.  The Multisite or Network Admin feature allows me the ability to troubleshoot any problems that may arise for any teacher as well as post any upcoming news, major events, or announcements that our community needs to know.  The troubleshooting feature takes the fear away from teachers trying new things within WordPress without the fear of breaking it since I am there to help.

However, the part that I love the most is the collaboration component of WordPress.  With the ability to embed videos, pictures, polls, etc. into WordPress posts and pages, students can access tons of information without ever leaving my website.  For most of my posts and pages, I allow students to comment on the items I have posted creating a threaded discussion about whatever we are learning in class.  Commenting on my website has allowed me, as a teacher, to see the different stages of learning for my students and catch their “ah-ha” moments when they are discussing whatever I have posted related to class.  We have a geometry teacher who is using WordPress as a discussion board to work through theorems.  We have other teachers holding discussions on civic and government issues.  Other teachers use the commenting features as a way for students to ask questions.

Off and on for the past 2 years, we have dabbled with the idea of WordPress portfolios for student work.  While the portfolio aspect of WordPress has died down due to teacher turnover recently, the portfolio concept is not something I’m giving up on just yet.  The key to the portfolios is to have the students create a WordPress blog during their 6th grade year as a place to share, comment, and archive their work throughout the year.  Then when they move onto 7th and 8th grade, they continue to use the blog creating a portfolio of their work over the course of their middle school experience.  The portfolio component of WordPress is a great way for students, parents, and teachers to see the evolution of learning as the students moved from 6th grade to 8th grade.  At the end of the 8th grade year, if students want to keep their portfolio going, we can export the file and put it on a flash drive for them.  Then they can create their own WordPress blog and upload the file to keep their portfolio going into high school.

All in all, I think WordPress is one of the best tools out there that a school can utilize to enhance communication, improve website layout, create teacher websites, and create students portfolios.  It’s time for schools to begin looking past the flashy web 2.0 tools like Glogster and Prezi and begin to use tools like WordPress and Edmodo that improve the community and greater good of school.  Sure Glogster and Prezi are cool and useful, but in reality, they are showy presentation tools that do not do much more than that.  If schools begin using innovative tools that incorporate collaboration, scaffolding, communication, presentation, etc., students will be much more equipped to succeed outside of our classrooms both digitally and personally.

Mobile Devices in the Classroom

In the past 2 or 3 years, I have pushed aside the traditional notion that students should leave their phones in the locker during class time.  I usually allow my students to bring their phones almost every day because they have no idea when I want to use them.  Sometimes I use them as instructional devices.  Sometimes I use them as research devices.  And sometimes students just listen to music as they work.  All in all, I have seen an increase desired to participate, learn, and engage when students are using their own mobile devices in my classroom.  Not too mention, with the lack of tech resources in my school, I have sort-of, kind-of adopted my own BYOD, which has introduced a whole new set of guidelines and policies into my classroom, but that is for another blogpost at another time.  However, I wanted to take a second to discuss 3 mobile device tools that I use frequently in my class.

Recently, I created a Google Docs presentation for my grad school class about  Poll Everywhere creates online polls that allows anyone to text in their answer to a multiple choice or a short answer question.  You can also use a mobile browser or a unique URL to view each question and answer them.  Users can see their responses and others in real time as they appear on the display.  In my experience, Poll Everywhere is best used for quick, fun review games.  It’s fairly cumbersome/expensive to aggregate the data for your classroom and generate data to help teachers assess their own teaching.  There is also not an easy way for students to indicate who they are, which is why I have my students initial their responses.  While Poll Everywhere does not provide opportunities for authentic assessment, it does provide teachers with meaningful ways to engage their students, increase interactivity, and present new information or review previously learned information.  With all that said, my students love this tool because they see their responses in real time like they would on a jumbo-tron and they are using their own mobile devices during class.  I highly recommend this tool to anyone looking for a way to use mobile devices in the classroom in a fun and engaging way.

Another mobile device tool that I wanted to spotlight is called Socrative.  Socrative is very similar to Poll Everywhere in that it allows teachers to create assessments in which students respond to using their own mobile devices.  I was turned on to this tool about a year or so ago by my colleague, @mrscienceteach.  I gave it a shot, and I was instantly hooked! In a nutshell, Socrative is Poll Everywhere supercharged and can be used in very similarly to Poll Everywhere but with more bells and whistles.  You can set up short answer questions, multiple choice questions, games, exit passes, review games, tests, quizzes, etc.  Teachers can generate the questions themselves, and students simply log in and begin.  Socrative is compatible with any mobile device via their app, but you can also use browsers as well to participate.  As a teacher, the best part about Socrative are the reports that it generates for you.  While the answers are not saved and stored by Socrative, the multiple choice activities are graded for you automatically and other students responses are aggregated and sent to you via email in an excel spreadsheet or shared online via Google Docs.  Here is a great blogpost on all the Socrative capabilities.

Another mobile device tool or app that I use is called Remind101.  Remind101 is a safe and easy way for teachers to text students and parents for free.  While this tool is not an instructional tool, it is a great way to supplement instruction by letting students know what is going on in class with important dates, test reminders, links, HW reminders, etc.  Teachers do not have to give our their personal cell phone numbers.  Instead, teachers just have to create an account online and students and parents will subscribe to the account via a randomly generated number.  Once they subscribe, every time the teacher sends a reminder either via the app or a browser then all subscribers will receive a text to their phone with the information.  It’s a great way to stay connected and keep all stakeholders informed.

All in all I think mobile devices are on the rise in today’s classroom and they should be embraced by schools and teachers.  With the increased demand for iPhones and Android powered devices, students are bringing computers with them to school every day and we are making them keep these devices in their lockers.  Tools like Poll Everywhere, Socrative, and Remind 101 are great ways to engage students and make use of the tools they bring to the classroom.  With students providing their own tech tools, the responsibility for learning shifts even more to the student because they now have an even greater vested interest.

Podcast #3 – Digital Citizenship Defined by #edchat

Listen to Podcast #3


For my third podcast, I thought I would incorporate my latest blogpost regarding #edchat and discuss one of the recent #edchats I participated in called “Digital Citizenship.”  The question posed for the October 2nd, 7:00 pm #edchat was “How do we define good Digital Citizenship, and what are specific things teachers can do to support that outcome for students?”  Obviously, this is a topic that prominently emerged within the last 5 years.  The concept of digital citizenship has been around for a while, but in the past, teachers and schools combatted the issue by simply not letting students online.  However, as we have slowly seen the advantages of using online tools in the classroom, we have started to scale back the filters.  With that scale back comes the responsibility of teaching and protecting our students about online use and their own digital footprint.

With the push in Internet Safety among our students in part due to the 21st Century Act that was passed recently, our teachers are tasked with teaching students what good “Digital Citizenship” looks like.  One of the problems raised over and over again in this week’s #edchat was that teachers are not sure what Digital Citizenship really is or how they teach good digital citizenship.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s a fairly new concept for most teachers because it just came down the pipe a few years ago. 

Many of the participants were concerned that “digital citizenship” was going to become one of those words like “meaningful learning” and “connected educator” that is poorly defined even though we now consider both of those to be essential staples in today’s classroom.  Even though digital citizenship remains poorly defined, teachers also have to combat the fact that their idea of digital citizenship can be different from someone else’s idea of digital citizenship.  Just like everything else that emerges within education, teachers have to figure out the best way to fit “digital citizenship” into their classroom curriculum.  The law says it has to be taught, but how it is taught and the best way to teach it is up to the teacher.

After tweeting out the concerns surrounding the definition of digital citizenship and the concerns about teaching the concept to students, the conversation shifted to setting parameters for the term.  Most people agreed that digital citizenship meant leaving a strong, positive, contributing digital footprint.  Teachers need to help students see that what they do online never disappears, and that is completely okay if students are positively contributing to whatever online environment they are participating in.  However, even with the groundwork laid, teachers continued to offer up extended definitions of digital citizenship related to cyber bullying, filtering, facebook, twitter, etc.

Finally, mixed throughout the entire #edchat conversation were suggestions of specific things that teachers can do to help our students meet the outcome of what we defined as digital citizenship.  Almost every contributor offered up some sort of variation of modeling.  Modeling is long lasting and time-tested strategy that works well for most students.  Teachers model a certain behavior and students mimic or follow that model thus meeting the teacher’s expectations.  One teacher noted that teachers who participate in #edchat and contribute in a positive manner on twitter instead of gossiping are modeling good digital citizenship.  One of the foremost experts on all things tech, @web20classrom Steven Anderson, tweeted that “Digital Citizenship/Ethics are normally stand alone lessons and activities when they should be woven into the curriculum. “ 

With that being said, I would agree with my colleague, Steven Anderson, that students should be taught this concept by working it into our everyday lesson plans.  Digital citizenship is a huge component of the 21st century curriculum and one that all teachers need to begin to embrace.  No matter how you define it, digital citizenship is here to stay.

#edchat and How I’m Better For It

I have been teaching for almost 4 years now, and throughout those past 4 years, I have become actively involved in the educational twitterverse and learned a lot from the many hashtag conversations happening on twitter regarding education.  I am constantly scrolling through my timeline that consists of some pretty prominent educators that are constantly sharing ideas, thoughts, lesson plans, blogposts, etc.  The educators that I follow include classroom teachers, instructional technologists, administrators, policy makers, professors, students, etc.  All of these people provide valuable insight to me as an 8th grade Social Studies teacher.  Sure I’m gone through my ups and downs on twitter…sometimes I can’t get enough and sometimes I don’t check it for days.  However, nothing (including professional development, meetings, mentors, etc.) has done more for me as a teacher than the people I interact with on twitter on a regular basis.

One of my colleagues (@mrscienceteach) suggested that I get involved with twitter because it had really helped him grow as a professional.  I had already signed up for twitter in the past, and I had dabbled in twitter before it really blew up, but I wasn’t convinced of it’s place in society let alone in education so I gave up. @mrscienceteach suggested that I join the online twitter conversation of #edchat to help me see the value of twitter for educators.

#edchat is probably best explained here and here, but in a nutshell, it’s a set time where a bunch (and I mean a bunch) of educational stakeholders meet to discuss a chosen topic voted on by #edchat participants.  I have learned so much while participating in various #edchats throughout the past 3 and 1/2 years.  My thinking has been challenged and accepted.  My thoughts and ideas have been shared, critiqued, and improved upon.  I was even approached by Edutopia to write a guest column on an #edchat topic that I participated in.  You can read it here.

It’s a great space for anyone with a vested interested in education to join a positive and thoughtful conversation with like-minded people.  The catch — as we are always challenged by the moderators at the end to do — is to make sure you go and do something about whatever we discussed during #edchat.  The point of #edchat is not for these great ideas to solely thrive and live in cyberspace, but we are supposed to take what we learn and act.  All participants are challenged to make a difference and being a catalyst for change in their own schools, districts, or learning environment.

Join the conversation…#edchat

Gaming in the Social Studies Classroom

While I’m not convinced that gaming has a permanent place in the classroom for every student, I do think many students learn very well when playing content-based games or simulations.  There is a lot of research that supports game-based education, but the simple fact of the matter is…gaming does not work well for everyone including students who are “gamers.”  In fact, I would go as far to say that gaming is probably best used as a supplemental tool in most classrooms, which is exactly how I have used content-based games in my classroom in the past.  Perhaps there is a more permanent place for gaming in online environments, but until I see an obvious advancement in gaming for education I am not convinced.

For me personally, in order for gaming to be truly accepted into the class they are going to have to rival the graphics, gameplay, storyline, etc. of today’s entertainment-only games like Madden, Call of Duty, and Angry Birds.  When kids have games like those literally in their pockets 24/7, then the Oregon Trail and the Stock Market Game are just not going to cut it as primary teaching tools in the classroom.  Is there still a place for lower quality games in the classroom? Sure, but until vendors are able to provide games that rival more modern games then I believe gaming will always be a supplemental teaching tool.

With all that said, I do use games from time to time in my class.  I usually use games in Learning Stations that we do in class.  Even the games that do not rival the graphics and story lines of today’s games work well in my classroom when I am teaching a particular topic and I am looking to challenge my students.  The problem lies in the fact that these games are usually only entertaining the first couple of times.  That is why I use the list of games below in Learning Stations because may only have a chance to play the game once or twice depending on time.  Below is a list of games I have used in my classroom to reinforce the content

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 Game – – The Constitutional Convention game is designed for students to be able to see what it was like to ratify the Constitution.  Students take on the role of one of the state delegates and navigate through the process of writing the Constitution.  Depending on what state they choose determines the level of difficulty in the game.

Mummy Maker – – Egyptians are known for mummifying their dead, but a lot more goes into the process than just wrapping up the body.  Parts were removed, things were stuffed, and much more.  In this game, students take on the role of an Egyptian who is in the process of burying a prince.

Pyramid Challenge – – Egyptians were just as well known for building pyramids.  Pyramids to this day are still some of the most fantastic man-made structures in the world. In this game, students are the project manager for building a pyramid and must decide what to build the pyramids out of, routes to transport goods, and workforce to use to build the pyramids.

Darfur is Dying – – (taken directly from their website) Darfur is Dying is a viral video game for change that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. Players must keep their refugee camp functioning in the face of possible attack by Janjaweed militias. Players can also learn more about the genocide in Darfur that has taken the lives of 400,000 people, and find ways to get involved to help stop this human rights and humanitarian crisis.

The Road to Citizenship Game – – Students take a road trip across the United States as they answer questions about U.S. citizenship, civics, history, and government.  During their trip, students will visit cool monuments, national parks, and other places of historical significance.

The Road to Revolution Game – (taken directly from website) Test your knowledge about the American Revolution, and see if you can navigate your way to independence. Every correct answer gets you closer to liberty!