For this assignment, I created a podcast called “Science/Fiction” (or perhaps Science-Slash-Fiction” to add emphasis to the slash). The idea behind this podcast was to spark the imagination of the listeners. As a Science teacher, all too often I see student that become disenchanted with science because so much of it seems to be fact memorization. While I can sit back and be amazed by the work of Charles Darwin or Gregor Mendel, student don’t see it that way. So, I wanted to create a podcast that reminded listeners that there is a connection between real-world science and science fiction. Through this series, listeners will see connections between dreams of the past and the realities of the future (or present).
In the pilot episode, the four topics I chose to look at were the possibility of bringing extinct species back to life using their DNA, parasites that infect the brain of their hosts turning them into zombies, the ins and outs of time travel and science fiction devices that will soon be a reality.
This was a very enjoyable assignment. While I can’t say I am natural at podcasting, I do feel like the process is a great learning experience that helps you delve deeply into topics that are interesting. I would love to make this particular podcast a series in which my students are the contributors.
What is the daily experience of most teachers? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it is, sadly, a fairly isolated experience. I plan my lessons on my own, I prep them on my own, I deliver them on my own and evaluate their effectiveness on my own. Do I do a good job? I like to think so. I also work hard to stay innovative and to make the work and learning interesting for my students. When push comes to shove, however, my students are working in isolation much the same as I am. They are studying Biology (or Chemistry, or whatever subject I happen to be teaching) in isolation from other disciplines. Sure, I like to slip in historical context when I can and I certainly help them through math skills, but the reality is that this type of isolation just isn’t real…except in school.
What happens when the students toss their caps and head off into the real world? They are asked to complete projects for work that integrate all of the subjects they learned separately in school. In some ways it seems like learning to hit a golf ball by learning small parts of the golf swing, the initial takeaway, taking the club up, starting the downswing, etc., from different coaches, only to ever take a full swing when it really counts- on the course. Chances are the first few times you try that full swing, it will be awkward and not so successful. The same goes for those first integrated, real-world projects. Awkward and, perhaps, unsuccessful.
What would serve the students better? An integrated curriculum. A curriculum in which they develop English skills, Math skills, Science skills and all of their other skills through work on the same project. A chance to see how the world connects outside the classroom walls. Imagine a student who spent their time in school in this fashion as they attack that new, but familiar real-world project when they get their first job. To say the least, they will be better off for the experience thay had in school.
So how does a school deliver such an experience? To be honest, I don’t know. It seems to take dedicated teachers, hard work and long hours. What I do see, however, is that the first step is to create a culture of collaboration. Administrations must make this a priority. Creating lines of communication between faculty members is the essential first step to building an integrated curriculum. Perhaps replacing faculty meetings with grade-level check-ins is a start. Simply getting teachers together to talk about what they are teaching and how they are teaching it. Can’t you just imagine the conversation as teachers begin to see the overlap in their subject matter. It seems to me, it wouldn’t take much for that conversation to turn into an idea for small-scale collaboration, which could lead to…who knows.
The reality is that such conversation would not likely turn into a fully integrated curriculum. That type of teaching is just too complex to come by through sheer enthusiasm. But, the conversation is the starting point. The communication between the people students spend their day with. The realization that there are common goals and ways to make every subject more relevant, real and meaningful.
I like the sound of that.
Having settled on a school garden as a project, I am quite optimistic about where I can go with this idea. In my vision for this project, students will start by seeing the issues that exist in our modern world of industrialized agriculture. Utilizing a film such as Food, Inc. I hope to help them see there is a problem. From there, they will learn alternatives through research and begin to design a small garden that will become part of the school. School gardens are not new, but the development of a garden seems to allow for so many learning opportunities across the field of biology. Students will learn about plant needs, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, nutrition and more.
As far as tools go, it seems like a great opportunity for students to share what they learn with others. Development of a school garden website that can be a future resource for other class and school and some sort of multimedia project (I can see a public service announcement made by students) seem like very good, authentic forms of assessment. I am still struggling a bit on how to create an audience for the students. Ideas like fellow teachers, and students (maybe an assembly) see ok, but it keeps the work of my students within the school community. It would be nice to expand their audience beyond the school grounds. Perhaps involving parents would be a nice addition.
Is it PBL without an audience? I would have to say yes, as long as the students are motivated by the learning. However, most students need added incentive. This, in my mind, is where the audience comes in. By expanding the audience to include people outside of the students world, the motivation to do well increases. This comes not just as fear of looking foolish, though many students will see that, but as an opportunity to look great. A chance to make a difference. That is something that is different about today’s students- the work they do doesn’t just hang in hallways, it has the potential to impact society. So, while the project can carry on without an audience, clearly, students benefit from having one.
As the first module of my Ed Tech 504class wraps up, it’s time to look at I look at where I am, where I want to go and the
ripple effect that may have. In my world as a Science teacher in a small private school, I am pushing to include the use of technology in as many ways as I feel is prudent. The word “prudent” being the key. Since my introduction into this field just two years ago, I have certainly become enamored with the tools that educational technology provides. I have created wikis for my classes and my school, attempted to get teachers to move discussions to a Ning and begun to record lectures via podcast on a regular basis. I have sought out different experiences for my students to have through online tutorials and a wide variety of online web 2.0 tools. The tools are very seductive and exciting to say the least.
Personally, I find using technology very exciting because it can offer a very multifaceted approach to learning. Nowadays, however, I am taking a hard look at the reasons and best methods for inclusion of technology in my classes. In addition, I have begun a transition towards being a leader in educational technology at my school. Beginning this year, I have started to drop classes in favor of exploring technology use and sharing the results of that exploration with my colleagues. While this is a very exciting time for me, the idea of becoming a leader in a field that is ever shifting and difficult to define is also a bit intimidating.
In terms of my teaching, a student in one of my classes- I teach a variety of Science and Math classes, but am most comfortable in a Biology classroom- can expect to spend a number of days on a computer and relatively fewer days listening to a lecture. I have opened my eyes to the fact that a lecture based class is not an effective learning situation for most students. As I learn more about learning, I see that the majority of my knowledge has come through experience, not through listening to lectures or following step-by-step lab procedures. I learned best when things got messy. When I was unsure of how to proceed and had to figure it out on my own. That is the experience that I hope to bring to my classes and the incorporation of educational technology in a myriad of ways helps make that possible.
In our wired world, technology is so much more than the computer in front of me or a lab simulation- though I do think they are both helpful in their own way. Instead, the world is at my fingertips. I can head out and find the information I want or need. I can share ideas with colleagues, watch tutorials on astronomy or cell biology and even tweet a cookbook author to ask a question about a recipe. (I did this last one just the other day and was very excited to hear that the rubbery texture of my vegan burgers was normal!) The point is that everyone with an internet connection can head out and seek information. Doing so well is another story. Learning about the foundations of educational technology can only help me gain a better global view of what it is I am trying to accomplish. As a teacher, I can get very myopic about the inclusion of technology. I look at this web tutorial or that blog and choose it for a given assignment. While this turns out useful more often than not, it does leave me wanting a bit in terms of being able to share the virtues of educational technology with my colleagues in other departments. I am
hopeful that learning more about the core of the educational technology field will help me to better reach out to my colleagues.
The ripples of what I am doing are certainly being felt by my colleagues already. I am doing my best to model technology inclusion in a meaningful way so that teachers around me might see it and ask about what I am doing and give me an opportunity to share ideas with them. Once the dialogue is open, I truly believe that most teachers will see the value of helping their students make connections, making connections themselves and being part of a global community.