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...

Evaluation & assessment tools. (n.d.). Retrieved from

(n.d.). How can technology be used with assessment, evaluation, and curriculum redesign?. Thirteen ed online, Retrieved from

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....

Bickford, R. (2010). Youth access to violent video games on trial: The supreme court takes the case. (Communique ed., Vol. 39, pp. 11-13).

Ethical Issues in Clinical Neuropsychology.Eds: Bush, S.S., & Drexler, M.L., Lisse, NL: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, 243 - 280 (2003). Retrieved from

Kommers, P. (1997). Virtual reality for education. Retrieved from

Pantelidis, V. (2000). Reasons to use virtual reality in education. VR in Schools, 1(1), 9. Retrieved from

Tan, G. (2009, August 03). Virtual reality games an addiction for local gamers. The Brunei Times. Retrieved from

The Opposing Opinion of Virtual Realities...

Based on my previous post, it is no secret that I'm an advocate for the use of virtual realities, personally and in educational settings. However, there are many that tend to disagree with me. So, to play devil's advocate, I decided to take some time to investigate the opposing side. As a way to organize my thoughts, I created a graphic organizer to show the potential positive and negative aspects of virtual realities. Below is the link that shows my graphic organizer:

Pros and Cons to Virtual Realities

If I were to look strictly at the opposite to my personal view, it is easy to comprehend why others do not want to promote the use of virtual realities. Even though some educators use them in classrooms, the majority of virtual environment exist in computer and video games. Sites such as World of Warcraft, Second Life and Teen Second Life allow you adults and teenagers to create avatars. These avatars can be anything and do anything. When young adults start to design and create a life they want virtually, it may be difficult for these people to become successful in the real world. The lines between virtual worlds and real world can become blurred. In fact, many adult can't function in the real world because of his or her addiction to virtual realities. There are documented cases of people dropping out college, getting fired from jobs, and/or unable to keep a stable long-term relationship because of addictions to virtual realities. By using virtual environments in classrooms may cause the initial spark to that addiction.

Other examples of virtual environments exist in video games. Video games are in extreme high demand and there are multiple systems and networks to choose. Recently video game systems have been changing a few things by creating games that require physical activity and provide opportunities for family bonding. However, many of the popular video games are those that promote violence. This type of negative entertainment has been studied and proven to increase aggressive behaviors in game users. The debate about video games being to blame for school shootings continues to a sensitive subject for many; however, we can conclude that these type of virtual environments may cause some negative impacts. So, once again, it makes sense why educators do not want to promote virtual realities by using them in classroom.

Based on this new found research, I can understand why so many educators are against the use of virtual realities. However, I happen to know a few teachers that use virtual environments and don't realize that is what they are using! When it comes to defining virtual realities, there are a multitude of definitions. I described the one that I agree with the most in my previous blog, but others may see them a little differently. Even though I played devil's advocate and examined the opposing side to my view, I'm still an advocate for the use of virtual environments in education. The key is to teach students how to balance. Create motivation and active engagement among students by using virtual realities but also continue lessons that contain traditional classroom settings and real world experiences.

Resources: Bickford, R. (2010). Youth access to violent video games on trial: The supreme court takes the case. (Communique ed., Vol. 39, pp. 11-13).

Ethical Issues in Clinical Neuropsychology.Eds: Bush, S.S., & Drexler, M.L., Lisse, NL: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, 243 - 280 (2003). Retrieved from

Kommers, P. (1997). Virtual reality for education. Retrieved from

Pantelidis, V. (2000). Reasons to use virtual reality in education. VR in Schools, 1(1), 9. Retrieved from

Tan, G. (2009, August 03). Virtual reality games an addiction for local gamers. The Brunei Times. Retrieved from

Virtual Reality...what is it?

Webster's Dictionary defines Virtual Reality as an "artificial environment that is experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer." It can be used in a multitude of ways such as entertainment, training programs, flight simulators, psycho-therapy, space discovery, education, and many others. Due to these uses, virtual realities seem to become more and more in demand. In fact, I found over 100 terms to describe various types of virtual realities. Some of these include: avatar, cyberspace, interface, objects (VR), portal, simulator, tracker (VR), virtual prototype, and many others. There are an abundant amount of ways to describe the terminology of virtual realities. To me, they seem to be artificial worlds to learn from and experience.

When it comes to the education world, it virtual realities are starting to be used more and more. Physics teachers use them for simulations, Biology teachers use them for virtual dissections, Chemistry teachers use them to demonstrate molecular bonding, and many others. Being that I'm a science teacher, it makes sense as to why virtual realities are used in my field. As a science teacher, we are trying to teach students about difficult concepts. The best way to teach these concepts is through hands on experiences and visualizations. Being that there is very little money in education, it can be difficult to provide students with multiple dissections or materials to build fan cars. Virtual realities like: Phet, MAVIS, NCSA and others. These have become so popular that iPads even have apps that are useful for dissections such as the frog and rat dissection apps (both I use with my own students!). In my experience, science teachers seem to be the most accepting the use of virtual realities. However, others content areas are coming on board. I happen to know a few social studies and language arts teachers that allow the students to create avatars for presentations.

 When it comes to virtual realities, we, as educators, should take advantage of these opportunities to teach our students with tools that make our jobs a little easier. Of course there are negative aspects to virtual realities; however the positive seem to outway the negative. When using virtual realities with students it provides motivation, gives opportunities to show things that you may never get a chance to see in classrooms, encourages active engagement, builds technology skills, meets 21st Century Learning skills, and many more!! 

I'm a big advocate for the use of virtual realities, personally and in education. I admit that I'm a huge fan of building a Smurf Village and creating strategies on my TripleTown iPad apps. However, I also love to use them in my classroom too! Since I use them in my class, my students are able to truly analyze organisms, pretend to be doctors, visualize what can happen to environments when keystone species are removed, and many more. Of course, I could just tell my students these things, but to me, that is not learning. As a 21st Century Teacher, it is my job to guide my students to become successful adult by developing 21st Century skills. Virtual realities give me that opportunity!


Pantelidis, V. (2000). Reasons to use virtual reality in education. VR in Schools, 1(1), 9. Retrieved from

Monday, April 2, 2012

My thoughts about Social Networking and Digital Citizenship

When it comes to social networking, it seems to be a growing field. Millions of people are able to connect to others through various social networks. So, it makes sense that the education world also embrace this and start using it to our advantage! As an educator, I've learned about some sites that I never realized can make my teaching even better. By using social networks like wikispace and edublog, I will be able to teach my students how to communicate with other classmates outside of the class and take ownership in the work they complete in school. I do realize that it may take some time to teach my students how to use these social networks properly, but once the students are able to utilize it, I will be saving class time! Social networks are attractive to students, so I might as well use them to get students eager and WANT to learn science. 

When it comes to utilizing technological components like social networks, it is equally important to educate students about digital citizenship. To be honest, I never realized how detailed others have thought about elements of digital citizenship. This week, I learned that there are nine different elements to the topic!! Through my investigation into these elements, I was able to create a lesson plan on how I may teach my students about social networking and digital citizenship. Below is a link to my lesson plan.

Social Networking & Digital Citizenship Lesson Plan

Once I created this lesson plan with a classroom policy on digital citizenship, I discussed the concept of teaching this to my students next year, and she loved it. Technology isn't going anywhere. In fact, it is only going to become more and more advanced. So, it makes sense that we, as educators, need to add lessons on how to be digital citizens. Hopefully, many others feel the same way as I do and plan to do the same with his or her students.

Digital easy way to teach it to students.

Since I've been talking about social networking with students, it is important to remember to teach students about digital citizenship. Many others feel the same as I do about this topic. In fact, there is a website that is completely devoted to digital citizenship and providing adults with resources to teach children about the topic. If found this particular website extremely useful when creating my own digital citizenship classroom policy. Since I work at a school that has a mascot of an Eagle and use the positive behavior support acronym of "SOAR," I decided to use it to promote digital citizenship with my students. Below is the link to my classroom policy:

Digital Citizenship Classroom Policy

Since I teach seventh graders, it was important for me to try and keep my policy simple and easy for my students to understand. Hopefully my classroom policy inspires you to do the same with your students.

Social Networking in the Classroom

When it comes to social networking, there are tons to choose! However, there are very few that are appropriate to use in education. This week, I took some time to investigate some useful social networks that are appropriate to use with students. Below is a link to some useful networks and a brief overview to their effectiveness:

Social Networks for Students

When it comes to social networks, students LOVE them. They are attractive and entice students to want to use them! So, why not use them to teach our students. I'm currently in the process of creating two of my own social networks to use with my students next school year. I'm excited to see how well my students thrive with this kind of 21st Century Learning!!! Below are my examples:

Gaunce's Science Class

Gaunce's Class Blog

Social Networking in Plain English...

What is a social network? Who is on it? Which is the most common? Is it safe? ...These are common questions that many ask when social networking becomes a topic of conversation. It is understandable that so many people may have questions regarding social networking because it is so new. In fact, it is not even considered valuable enough for Webster's Dictionary to define! This week, I decided to look into this new found phenomenon of social networking and its value.

As part of my initial research, I went to a common place that many other visual learners may be familiar with, youtube. I was able to watch a video that described Social Networking in Plain English. This quick, two minute segment describes how most connections among people are "hidden" and social networking makes these "hidden opportunities" visual. Most social networks are found on the internet and meant for people to connect online. In most cases, users will have some type of profile that internet browsers will be able to find and connect to it. Once there is a connection, then people are able to communicate from various places all over the world or close to home with others they may have never come in contact with if not for social networking.

In my personal opinion, the most common users of social networks are Generations X through Z. It is fairly easy to find many young people connected to some type of network. However, social networking is becoming more and more common. So, it is not strange to find Baby Boomers and other generations starting to join a network.

When it comes to access to social networks, the opportunities are endless. You can find a network for dating, communicating with friends and family, advertising and promoting your business, creating personal journals for others to follow, discussing educational ideas for our 21st Century Learners, "pinning" pictures, and many more! Some of the most popular social networks are: Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, My Life, Delicious, and many others. I personally use Facebook (and now the addition of Pinterest), Delicious, Linked In, Wikispace, and, of course, this blog.

Due to my use of these social networks, I've been able to connect with old friends, stay in contact with long distance family members, save useful websites, save my progress on my continuing education, communicate with other educators about iPad apps and other educational resources, and, recently, found some great recipes!

Although social networks do provide benefits, there is always the risk of providing personal information online. There are quite a few people out there that are very knowledgeable about networks and have learned ways to find out information with just a few clicks of mouse. Because of these knowledgeable people, I take a few extra precautions. For instance, I keep my Facebook private with minimal information exposed until I accept you as a "friend." Due to some of these type of precautions, I have experienced very little negative impact.

As a side note, as a teacher that plans to use social networking with students in the near future, it is vital for me to protect my students as well. So, I will NOT allow my students to put personal information, pictures will only be allowed with parental permission, and I will continue to teach students about cyberbullying, precautions to social networking, and digital citizenship.