Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Ideal Educational Setting

Being that I'm a teacher, I definitely believe in education. I feel that it is extremely important for students to have a connection to his or her teachers. Without a connection, many of the students don't want to learn. As an educator of hormonal 7th graders, I feel that I have to work extra hard to create that connection with my students. The way I'm able to do this is through the content, life science, and the tools I use to teach the content. In order for me to accomplish such a task, it requires me to continue my own education and stay on top of the newest and best strategies for my students. In my ideal educational setting, I would like for students to want to learn and for me to provide the best way for EACH student to do such a thing.
Some of the obstacles that I currently face is: lack of support from administration, lack of funds/limited resources, students that are in my 7th grade class that are at a 2nd grade reading level, too many students in one class, lack of parental support, stress and pressure of common assessment scores, and the most recent, district barricades with technology.  In my ideal educational setting, all of these obstacles would be disappear.
Ironically, I work in a district that prides themselves on being one of the best districts in the state, yet we still have so many of the same obstacles as other struggling school districts. So, the question is, how do we change it? The first step is at the district level. In my ideal educational setting, my district administration would allow teachers to do what they want. Of course there would need to be a few restrictions here and there, but as long as I'm doing something that is good for the kids and creating a successful learning experience, it is allowed. In addition, I would expect parental support. In other words, I would like parents to respect me as the teacher and support me by having the same expectations of his or her child at home as I do in the classroom. I would also love the opportunity to integrate and collaborate with other subjects/contents and how they can be used in each of the different classrooms. For example, the English teacher would use science vocabulary words as part of her weekly sentence diagrams.
In addition, I would really love to use more technology! Being that I'm teaching in the "digital era," I want to utilize technology that will make my students successful. Currently, I'm struggling with the fact that my students are blocked from so many tools on the internet. I would really like to take down those barricades. If I was given the opportunity to teach digital citizenship the way I would like to, I think that students can really respond to independence with technology in a positive way.
Overall, there is a great deal I would like to include in my ideal educational setting. The question is, how?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Experiencing an Online Classroom

Since I've been investigating the advantages and disadvantages to online learning, I decided to really take the time to explore. For fun, I decided to join Mrs. Jones' Room. Mrs Jones currently teaches Kindergarten. This week and last (April 16 -27), Mrs. Jones' room is focusing on the Letter and Sound of the week of "sh." In addition to the letter and sound of the week, her class will questions and 25 kdg words.

Mrs. Jones' overall design of the classroom was very explicit of what needs to be done by each student. To go along with the required assignments, there were games and songs that helped with active engagement. It was pretty evident that parent involvement was a must. Many of the daily activities required interactions between partners. Being that this is a class designed for five to six year olds, it makes sense. I really enjoyed all the hands on activities, songs, and kinesthetics that were required. As a parent of a toddler, I was able to see that Mrs. Jones really knows the best way to teach younger children. In fact, her class motto is: "The more you practice, the better you'll get!" I completely agree with her strategies.

It was easy to see that Mrs. Jones uses Bloom's Taxonomy, Marzano's Nine, as well as Constructivism within her curriculum. For example, one of the themes in Mrs. Jones' class in April is for weather. As a way to learn about weather, there is an interactive weather website as well as a daily discussion of the topic. This definitely promotes 21st Century Learning, use of student driven activities, and the use of Marzano's strategy of Nonlingustic Representation.

Personally, I found Mrs. Jones' class to be challenging and fun. As a parent and teacher, I can definitely see myself using this website with my own son!

Online it effective?

This week, I took the time to really investigate online learning. Online learning, also known as distance learning, distance education, and/or e-learning, is defined to be a web-based classroom. Throughout the state of Colorado, there are approximately fifty different online programs that are available from various school districts. Some online programs are designed for strictly high school level, but there are many that offer K-12 education.

Due to the fact that so many districts are now starting to offer online learning programs, I decided to look into them. Before I started my research, my biggest question was "Are online learning programs as effective as traditional classrooms?" Throughout my research, I discovered there were some definite advantages and disadvantages to online learning. However, it was remarkable to learn what these online programs offer students! Online learning provides students with flexibility, time saved, transportation costs decreased,  progression of technology skills needed for future careers, as well as the ability to communicate with teachers on a one-on-one basis. On paper, online learning looks to be the best. However, there are also some big disadvantages. These include things like the lack of face to face interaction, possible lack of the development of social skills among peers, the need to stay motivated and organized, and the possibility of technology issues.

In addition to investigating the pros and cons to online learning, I took some time to interview a teacher that is able to teach online classes as well as in a traditional setting and a student that has taken online and traditional classes. Some of the questions I asked included the following:
How do you like teaching/learning in an online classroom setting?
What are some of the advantages/disadvantages?
Which way (online learning vs. traditional setting) do you prefer to teach/learn in? Why?
Do you feel online learning is as effective as traditional classrooms?

Both interviewees agree that online learning provides a flexibility and convenience that traditional settings do not. The teacher really enjoys the fact that she can communicate with students early or late in the day without any time constraints. However, the one disadvantage to teaching online classes is the difficulty to develop relationships. Due to the lack of face to face interactions, it can be hard to learn each students personalities, quirks, ticks, etc. Knowing each student's personality can really make a difference when it comes to motivation and active engagement. So, she feels that she has to really to work and pulling out each student's personalities. This helps her with keeping students motivated and on track. This teacher really does feel that online learning can be extremely effective, for the right kind of student. Students that struggle with organization and time management can really struggle. As a educator that has the ability to teach in an online and traditional setting. She enjoys both. She likes the ability to connect to students from all over the state as well as see the faces of her students that are in her traditional class. She finds herself taking many of her online strategies and using them to blend her curriculum in her traditional classes. She plans to keep teaching both ways.

The student I interviewed agreed with the teacher about online provided so much flexibility, but she realized this is not the way to learn for her. This is due to the fact that online learning really is student-focus and requires students to stay organized and stay motivated. For her, this was difficult.

With these interviews, as well as other research, I was able to come up with an overview to online education. Below is the link to conclusion:
Online Learning Overview

Overall, I believe education is extremely important. When it comes to education, it comes in a variety of ways. It could be in a traditional classroom with a teacher and thirty other students, or it could be on an individual basis through the Internet, or it could be a mixture of both. There advantages and disadvantages to all ways; the key is to finding out which way works best for you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Assessments...Personal Opinion

This week I decided to really analyze assessments. When it comes to education, teachers need to be able to evaluate students and administrators need to be able to evaluate teachers. So, the best way to do so is through assessments. As a teacher, I'm constantly evaluating my students, formally and informally. Since assessments are a requirement, there is no question as to why there are so many ways and programs to choose from. Personally, I think that online assessments provide a much better teaching style than traditional methods. As a teacher of 21st Century Learners, I find online assessments to be extremely beneficial to my instruction. I LOVE the ability to get immediate feedback, my students can work and his or her own pace, and I can provide something that is interesting like a review game or online quiz. When I use online assessments, my students stay actively engaged because of the use of technology.

The only time that online assessment hinder my instruction is the money factor. Many online assessments cost a great deal of money. Most of the time, it is out of my own pocket. I do like the fact that online assessments make my job easier, but I don't like the fact I have to pay for it.

This week I took a look at some great resources. Resources can always have positive and negative impacts, so below is a link that provides some of that information:

Best and Worst on online Assessments

When it comes to online assessments, teachers are entitled to his or her own opinion. However, answer this question: "Are our students traditional and like pen/pencil assessments, or do they prefer technology?" Look around, every student has some type of technological device whether it is a cell phone, tablet, or iPod. Students are constantly using the internet, so why not use technology and the internet to help teach them?!?!!?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Assessment Tools...a little bit of background knowledge

Assessments and Evaluations are a requirement in education. So, it is only natural that it be a topic of discussion. As an educator, I am a firm believer in the use of assessments. I use a variety of them that are formal and informal. Some of these include pre and post tests, quizzes, debates, class polls, projects with rubrics, lab activities, lab write-ups, and many more. Personally, I feel it is my job to prove that I've taught my students the necessary science standards as well as other skills that will make my students successful adults. Being that I'm an educator of 21st Century Learners, there are other skills my students will need as they go forward in his/her education. Not only do I teach life science, but I have to teach organization skills, character education, digital citizenship, communication skills, use of technology components, and other 21st Century Skills. As a way to make sure I'm providing my students with purposeful instruction, I have to provide a variety of assessments and evaluations. Being that we teach in the "digital era," there are abundant amount of technology tools available to use for these assessments and evaluations.

The district that I currently work in has certain required assessments that each student will have to take at appropriate times. For example, in 7th grade, my students have to take CoGat and TCAP for math, reading, and writing, however, the 8th grade students are required to take TCAP for science as well. Being that I'm a 7th grade science teacher, and my students are not tested on science every year, I have to provide other forms of assessments. This usually happens through pre and post tests at the beginning and end of each unit. However, the assessments that I provide are created by me, so they may not be considered as reliable since I'm not compared to any other teachers//schools/districts/nations/etc. The way to change this is through common assessments. Currently, myself and the other grade level science teachers are designing a common assessment to use for the next school year.  This will provide a little more accountability and reliability among the entire science department.

Since my district allows some flexibility with site-based accountability, it is up to each school to provide ways to assess and evaluate. Our middle school does have a variety of technology tools in place for assessments. Below is a link to a quick overview of some of these assessments:
Assessments Overview

Most of the technology tools used in the school are geared towards evaluating reading, writing, and math skills. So, as a science teacher, I have to rely on other technology tools for my own assessments. Some of these examples are shown in the following link:
Assessments with Technology (please feel free to add some of your own assessments that use technology to the page)

In addition to the tools that my district/school/me provide for the students within my building, there are a multitude of other resources available to evaluate students and teachers. Throughout my research I found many technology assessment resources that were specific to certain states. For instance, Michigan has the DW (Digital Warehouse) and Washington has the Diagnoser (a science assessment). It seems that every school district has their own database communication tool for grades like Infinite Campus or PowerSchool. Really, the technology tools are endless. The key is to finding the right ones and using them appropriately. In my opinion, assessments are not worth it if there is no purpose to them. Assessments should be used to evaluate students' background knowledge, learned knowledge/skills, and teacher instruction. If the data from the assessments is collected, then is should be evaluated and used. If not, then there was no purpose to the assessments. Technology tools that can be used for assessments and evaluations are wonderful resources. They provide immediate feedback and continuing evaluations of classroom lessons. Technology also provides a different approach to traditional teaching styles because of the amount of continual feedback these type of assessments create.  Once again, technology is a wonderful resource and can be quite effective when used to increase the value of the learning experience...

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Wheaton Shorr, P. (2002). A look at tools for assessment and accountability. Scholastic, Retrieved from

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Virtual conclusion

Now that I've really looked at both sides of virtual realities, my thoughts have not changed. Due to my research, I've become a little more sensitive and understanding to those that disagree with the use of virtual environments. However, I still believe that virtual realities can be great tools for education. Being that I'm an educator in this "digital era" and teach 21st Century Learners, it is my job to be open to using tools such as virtual realities. There are so many positive reasons to use them. They provide students with motivation to learn.

Since I teach middle school students, I get to see the intrinsic attitude everyday! My students are only interested in things that will affect them. Now, being that I'm a science teacher, I feel my job is a little easier because I have the opportunity to provide so many hands on experiences and teach topics like the human body. So, my students do seem to stay interested and actively engaged. However, I still have students that are not interested in science. As a way to keep ALL my students actively engaged, I change it up. I provide real life experiences through dissections and various labs and activities. But, I also bring in the technological component as well. By bringing in iPads and virtual simulations such as Edheads, I've been able to keep my least motivated student interested. My colleague that teaches social studies has an even more difficult time motivated our students and keeping them interested in things such as the history of Egypt. So, she also looks to technology to keep our students interested. Virtual realities such as Quest Atlantis is a perfect example! The key to being a good teacher is to motivate and engage your students. Virtual realities can provide this ability.

I still believe that there has to be a balance. Any good teacher knows that you can't run your class the same way everyday. If you do, your students will be bored. When students are bored, they don't stay engaged. If they don't stay engaged, they don't learn! So, the key is to differentiate and provide your students with a little of everything: hands on experiences, real world examples, traditional lesson, physical activities, and technological components. Virtual realities are great tools, but they can be the opposite if not used in the right context. It is extremely important to the teacher to instill the educational aspect. The best way to do this is to provide the students with a purpose to the virtual environment. Don't just let them "play" but provide expectations and assessments. Really take the time to evaluate the VR and make sure it provides you with that educational purpose. If it doesn't, then keep looking, there are other VR options out there!

A "Virtual Reality" Persuasion

Through the course of this week, I've been able to investigate virtual realities and how they are utilized in education. In my personal opinion, I believe the use of virtual realities are wonderful tools to promote technology and 21st Century Skills. However, many do not agree with me. As I stated in my most recent post, it is easy to understand why so many are against the use of virtual environments. VR users have the potential of becoming addicted to the virtual worlds and are unable to function in the real world. Not to mention, VR's have been thought to increase aggressive behaviors; many people debate they are the cause of school bullying and students killing other students.  Despite the potential of negative impacts, I still believe that virtual realities can be a great tool in education!!

Virtual Realities can provide motivation to students. The allow opportunities for students to become immersed and completely engaged in the content. Not to mention, VR's allow educators to teach students the required standards as well as NET standards and 21st Century skills. In addition to investigating my opposing side, I took some time to "play" on some virtual reality sites. I'll admit that some sites were so fun that I felt myself becoming addicted! Some of the sites I investigated seemed to be for pleasure while some really could be educational. Through my research, I was able to find quite a few sites that are appropriate for all ages. As a way to model Marzano's strategy by using an Advanced Organizer, I created a tree on

Out of the sites that I investigated, I find four sites that I plan to use with my own students:
Discover!Science Simulations
PhET Simulations

Discover!Science Simulations are more for elementary level, but some of these simulations would be great to use with some of my lower or ESL students. However, the other three, I do plan to utilize a great deal, so I took some extra time to really investigate them. Below is a link to the summary of these virtual realities:

Summary of Virtual Reality Examples

To further prove how strongly I feel about the use of VR's in class, I created a lesson plan that I will use with my Forensics class:

Virtual Reality Lesson Plan

Overall, this week has been enlightening. I've been able to see both sides to a tool that could be good to use and possibly has some negative impacts. However, I still believe that the positive outweighs the negative. It is up to you to decide....

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