Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Funny Story About Fragments

Sometimes funny things happen in Obertopia.  Rarely are they planned.  The story you are about to read is just one example.
I was trying to explain to my 4th period today what a sentence fragment was... and I was trying to come up with something off the top of my head.  Here's what came out: 
"Okay guys, here's another example of a fragment: 'So that's when my hair got stuck in the toilet.'" 
 Seriously-this really happened! They all started laughing, as did I. Then one kid asked, 
"Uhm, how did your hair get stuck in the toilet?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Classroom of the Future

Public schools are on the edge of a new era.   
I would like to call this new era “The Paperless Era.”  I’m not sure how long it’ll take to get there, but I’m guessing it’ll be here within the next 5-10 years.  The Paperless Era is sure to be more efficient, more cost effective, and more relevant than current public school education.  So what will The Paperless Era look like?   

The Blog of Obertopia is going to take a trip into the future to show you some of the exciting possibilities of a truly 21st century classroom.

iPads (or an iPad like device)
photo from the Apple Store website

The reason I default to iPad is because the Apple company has always been a supporter of education.  When I was a college student, I was able to get a student discount on my iMac computer.  As a teacher, I’ve been able to buy several Apple products with my teacher discount.  Can you imagine if the Georgia Department of Education arranged a deal to put an iPad in the hands of every public school student in Georgia??  Of course, some of the cost would have to be on the students/parents.  Maybe the district pays the original cost and the parents pay the insurance...?  I’m not sure what the proper ratio would be, but an old friend of mine used to say, “You’ll take better care of it if you’re financially invested.”
My job would be easier if all my students had iPads.  Currently, when students enter my classroom, they typically have a warm-up or “Opening”.  After the opening, I go over the goals of that particular day and we enter the “Work Session”, which is usually when the students work on the goal of the day independently or with others.  At the end of class, we are expected to have a brief “Closing” where we summarize the events of the class period.  All this takes place in a 72 minute period.  A few times throughout the week someone says, “I don’t have a pencil (or paper, or my homework, etc.)”, to which I reply, “I am not your Wal-Mart, or Office Max, or Target.”  :)
 If all students had to remember was their iPad, what an amazing thing that would be!  And chances are, they are not going to leave their iPad at home because how are they going to play games on the bus? 
The “Find my iPad” app could be helpful if students ever misplace their valuable educational tool. 
I have several friends with young children, and they are experts on the iPad!  They know how to turn it on, how to swipe the screen to unlock it, and how to open their favorite app.  Why are we still using pencil and paper in the public school classroom?  The only reason is cost.  It costs money to set up wireless for an entire school.  It costs money to supply the technology.  It costs money to purchase apps (or app subscriptions). 

Apps (for the iPad or iPad like device)
photo from leelouzworld.wordpress.com

Speaking of apps, I heard that the new software update for the iPad will include a setting which locks users into a certain app.  Certainly, this is ideal for small children who unwittingly hit the ‘Home’ button and accidentally close out an app.  But this setting would be great for the classroom, too.  As a teacher, I’ve taught many kids who could be trusted to stay on task (and in a certain app) if given an iPad.  I have also taught many kids who would be too tempted by Angry Birds to complete their assignment.  Therefore, this new setting would be ideal for the classroom iPads... Maybe something the teacher could turn on or off as needed.  It would be a great classroom management tool to allow students “Free Time” in the last 5 minutes of class if they complete all of their goals for the day.  My students love working towards a reward!  And one of the biggest reasons for misbehavior in the classroom is unstructured time. 

In classrooms with advanced technology, differentiation would be so much easier!  The idea of differentiation is this: Each student in our classroom has different strengths and weaknesses, so teachers should create a variety of methods to instruct and assess students so we can serve students at their individual levels.  As you can imagine, with classes averaging 30-35 students, this is often the biggest challenge educators face!  Trust me!  Sometimes I feel like giving up before I even start because it is such a daunting task.  But just think of how iPads could make this happen!  Some students are visual learners, so they would do great with educational apps that ‘show’.  Others learn best via audio and would learn best from apps that ‘tell’.  Still others are kinesthetic and need an app that lets them ‘do’.  

photo from blog.gocollege.com

Paper textbooks are ridiculously expensive!  And sometimes, they are outdated within a year of being published.  What a waste!  It would be awesome if school systems could instead subscribe to a certain textbook for a yearly fee.  And if textbook companies won’t give schools a good rate, then there are PLENTY of online resources and website we can use for free. 
We could also replace class sets of novels.  Surely Scholastic would give schools a good deal when buying electronic copies of books in bulk.  These books could then be read on the iPad at school, at home, or anywhere else.  Awesome!!

Cameras in the Classroom
photo from www.wrightslaw.com

I know some people are against the idea of cameras in the classroom, but I think they would do more good than harm.  Here are a few reasons:
1) Principals would be able to truly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the teachers.  Then true professional learning could take place.  Principals would be able to easily flip from classroom to classroom and know what’s going on in the school.  Maybe they’d only be able to watch 5-10 minutes of each teacher per week, but this could be a great thing!  Fair principals (hopefully) would understand that all teachers have bad days and it’s unrealistic to think all observations would be perfect. 
2) Absent students would be able to participate by watching recorded lessons.  My least favorite thing to do is create make-up work.  I understand that kids get sick, but make-up work is never as great as the original.  So much of what I do in the classroom is group oriented.  If each day could be recorded, this would replace the need for make-up work.  Also, the videos of successful teachers in each content area/grade level could be studied to see what generates the success. 
3) At our school, we’re expected to do (generally) the same thing as our fellow teachers in the same grade level subject area.  If a teacher is absent, the school could show the camera feed of another teacher’s classroom in the absent teacher’s class and the substitute could serve as a proctor.  This would be a great way to keep classes on track if a teacher is unavailable for a day or two (or possibly longer).  

Thanks for reading what I hope is part 1 of a multi-part series on "The Classroom of the Future."  If we're going to compete with the rest of the world in our global economy, we are going to need to make some changes.