Tag Archives: technology

You’re Not on Pinterest Yet? WHY NOT?


If you’re a visual person like me or you’re just looking for oodles of inspiration, you should check out Pinterest. The premise is simple. You and other users see something on the web that you like. You “pin it” to the topical board that fits. Your followers and you can refer back to it just by clicking on the “pin,” which leads you back to the web site. You can also view others’ boards and pins and “repin” them to your own boards. It’s a diigo or favorites for the aesthetically inclined.

This is an idea of what your pin boards might look like.

There is one major negative to Pinterest. Currently, you can only “pin” sites with pictures or videos. So let’s say you come across a great journal article that doesn’t have any clickable images, you can’t pin it. You also can’t pin .pdf files. But, for sure, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Here are some of my favorite things about Pinterest that make it so great for teachers:

  • Instant inspiration – If you follow the right boards, you’ll be presented with great ideas across many topics. I’ve picked up smart ideas for teaching various subjects, building community, and managing the classroom. Now that school is starting up in a few days and I’ve had to set up my room, I’ve been mining my pins to see what might really work well for me (or is worth a try).
  • Increased traffic – Using the “Pin It” button on WordPress has enabled me to vastly increase the number of hits on this site. In fact, “Tips for Avoiding a Nightmare First Day” has been pinned over 1,000 times! My blog is receiving unprecedented traffic in the last three weeks.
  • Opportunities to learn with colleagues - A bunch of my colleagues are also active pinners. I have come across several awesome ideas from their pinning activities. This is an updated way to reap the benefits of visiting a colleague’s classroom for ideas!

A word of caution as you enter the world of Pinterest: it is best to pin directly from a given post – rather than the site as a whole. For instance, if you were to pin this post and you used the pin it extension (which you’ll need to download to use Pinterest), your pin would refer back to From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, not this actual post. In order to make sure you can get back to the site you pinned, you must pin the post specifically.

Have fun pinning! My Pinterest boards are available by clicking here.

Another Case for Cell Phones in School


It’s 2012, so of course that means that one of the most ubiquitous tools at our students’ disposal is also one of the most reviled in NYC. Cell phones are simply not allowed in schools. There are too many people in positions of power who see them as texting, calling, and gaming devices as opposed to cameras, computers, and encyclopedias (ie. something that could enhance one’s education rather than take away from it like, I don’t know, test prep).

My kids are too young to have smartphones, but I’m a big boy so I get to have one. Today, it came in handy.

This year’s class got their first experiences using my set of digital cameras today. I thought I had one per customer, but as it turns out, I was two short. Nearly everyone was armed and ready to go on a scavenger hunt collecting pictures of arrays, but I had to improvise for the two who got shut out. So, one got my iPad and the other got my, you guessed it, phone.

There they were, traipsing about the halls, looking for arrays. Flashbulbs popped here, flashbulbs popped there. A girl held an iPad up and snapped away. And there was my cell phone user, happily capturing arrays all over the building.

Without a cell phone, she would have been excluded from the activity. That’s the way some would prefer us to have it, but it’s not the way I prefer to operate.

Without a cell phone, at least one of my students would not have been able to participate in our array scavenger hunt today. Instead, she was able to complete the same task as her peers.

When Technology Fails, You Need a Pen


This week, I found myself in a debate with some more experienced colleagues. We all waxed nostalgic for the days of neat handwriting, which they once taught in school and we all once learned in school. There were arguments for handwriting practice’s therapeutic effects on students and arguments that there’s a right way and a wrong way to form a letter.
I was alone in my insistence that the need for neat handwriting is becoming an obsolete notion given the ubiquity of computer and mobile technology. More and more, written communication occurs via the keyboard than the pencil.
I can envision a world in the future where handwriting is as necessary to humans as a pay phone is now. In my lifetime, so many tasks that could only be accomplished with a pen can now be accomplished faster and for less using modern technology. My paycheck is deposited electronically and I get an e-mail saying so. I can transfer money with a click of the mouse and can pay bills in the same way. I don’t need to buy a stamp and mail a letter because I can accomplish the same effect with e-mails. The list goes on.
Here’s the thing, though. The argument for handwriting that I found most legitimate is this: What happens when technology fails?
My immediate response was we are getting to a place where that’s becoming less and less likely.
And just because I made such a flippant and naive comment, the handwriting gods decided to conspire against me this morning when I turned on my laptop to type this blog: the damn thing is essentially dead. I got two fatal errors and now it seems it is time to invest in a new computer.
Now, I had technological backup, and I typed this blog on my iPad, but I think the point was obvious, anyway. What happens if technology fails in the future and someone has to write a paper check, mail a paper letter, or fill out a bank deposit slip?
It seems highly unlikely that we would ever find ourselves without technology for an extended period of time, and if we did, I don’t think poor handwriting would spell our civilization’s doom. But when a cell phone fails, you need a pay phone. Perhaps when a keyboard fails, you need a pen.

We’re in the Clouds


Today, I’ll take it as a compliment if you tell me my class and I are “in the clouds.”

Reason: yesterday, students experienced their first use of Google Docs, and it was a great success.

Thanks to a colleague allowing us to use some of her laptops, I had six students typing independently, publishing their work on Google Docs. It turns out you can log on to GDocs from multiple machines using the same user name. This is huge for me right now as my students do not have GMail accounts.

The kids loved GDocs. At lunch, I had three students continue to work. I sat at my iPad reading their work as they typed, and I typed suggestions and reminders for them to consider. Students marveled at the fact that what I typed appeared on their screen. They used what I typed to improve their writing. What a great exercise in literacy for students to receive direction by reading rather than listening.

Sometime in the future, I think I may get permission to set up GMail accounts for all the students so they can continue to work in the cloud and benefit from collaboration with me and their peers. I see great potential here!

Going Gaga for Google!


A lot of people seem to like the idea of Google Calendar serving as a hybrid plan book/lesson plan book. My ultimate goal is to be able to click on the lesson event and open up the lesson plan There seems to be a consensus that it can be done, but based on the dialogue in the comments on the post I linked, there seems to be a bit of frustration about how to make it happen as efficiently as possible.

It may be an ongoing project for me as I try to make sense of some of the suggestions made to me in the comments. In the meantime, though, I’m bulking up on my use of Google Docs and Google Calendar to help me be more organized and move away from paper.

1) I am now typing my lesson plans directly into Google Docs. I am organizing them by subject using collections. They are readily available for access and sharing, if necessary.

2) I collaborated with a colleague the other evening on Google Docs. She posted a lesson plan and asked me to make some remarks on it. Then, we discussed it using GChat (while simultaneously viewing her plan).

3) I started making Google Forms for IEP assessments. I’ve only done one so far, but I took a student’s goals, turned them into questions, and created checkboxes for each question.

4) I downloaded GoDocs for the iPad, so I have everything at my fingertips throughout the day.

5) I began to make the case to our math coach (who does plenty of professional development and paper copying/distributing) to make the move to Google Docs rather than use so much paper. She said I should keep hounding her until we sit down and look at it together.

6) Rather than go to 8 computers to upload students’ in-progress documents from my flash drive (what a nuisance!), I created a Google Doc for each of them so they can type and edit more efficiently. I’m not sure if it will work, but my plan is to log them all in on the same account so they can work on their own documents. A future project is to get parental approval to create GMail accounts for all students so they can do their own work on Google Docs.

Many Tweeps have shared ideas and information with me since the Calendar post, so there is lots to draw upon. It’s 2012 – and I’m starting to feel like I’m joining the technologically-inclined.

A Well-Oiled Workshop


I had to smile yesterday during our writers workshop.

In one corner, two students sat with a para and finished writing their planning pages (using a graphic organizer that eventually will serve them by helping them conceptualize paragraphs better when it’s time to publish).

A group of three (one on the computer) sat with me working through the first editing checklist of their academic careers. Two of the girls in my group typically struggle in writing, but they had a purpose with that checklist! Mechanically, their writing in this unit is better than it’s been in the two years I’ve known them.

A table full of typists, using graphic organizers to support paragraphing and visual cues to encourage proper formatting.

To the left, occupying an entire table, six students sat with laptops. They worked at typing their persuasive reviews, supported by the aforementioned graphic organizers and my visual reminders to hit return at the end of a paragraph (see the blue) and tab at the beginning (see the pink). A seventh student used my iPad to type his review. He was confused by the locations of the return and tab buttons, so I showed him that, just like how I had written it on his paper, return was on the right and tab was on the left. No issues from then on.

This all sounds pretty mundane, but considering the different phases of the unit that students are at, it’s not mundane at all. Realize, some students are already finished typing and others are just wrapping up their handwritten work. Had you walked into the room during writers, though, you would have seen a well-oiled workshop. No one was left without something to do (even my first finisher chose to read when done). Everyone was involved without the pressure of worrying about where in the process their peers were. It is wonderful to see independence coming out…and great work, as well.

Storing Lesson Plans on Google Calendar


In last week’s #ntchat, David Wees shared a tip for lesson planning: store them on Google Calendar. That leaves them available for future reference and cuts down on papers (which, for me, increases organization).

So, since today is a day with two assessments and students independently catching up on work, I decided I should give it a shot.

I loved the idea from the start. However, my main concern is that, as far as I can tell, the only place to type the plan is in the edit box of the event. On the laptop this isn’t as much of an issue because the box is big. However, on the iPad, it’s a bit of a concern – the box is small and formatting isn’t ideal. David suggested typing the lessons in the Notes app. I can do that, but it’s much more comfortable typing on the laptop and knowing they go from my laptop to my iPad without any extra steps. Anyone have any ideas?

Building Community with Better Communication


This year, I started sending home a monthly newsletter. True, the one I send the first week in February will only be the third of the year, but at least I’m finally doing it. I’ve had the idea since my first year, and tried a weekly a couple of years ago, but it was too much work. Once a month is manageable.

My newsletters alert parents of important dates that they need to remember. They remind or inform them of school and classroom policies that may need to be refreshed in everyone’s minds. I also try to include photos from the previous month to show the fun things happening in our class. I print them on neon paper and they have been a big hit with the kids since I started sending them.

There are many easily downloaded newsletter templates online. If you’re looking for a way to build a better community and communicate more regularly with families, try a newsletter.  It’s a fun way to reflect and keep families updated.

Here is a sample page from my most recent one. Click the image for a larger, easier to read version:

2012: An Education Odyssey


It’s 2012, and it seems 2001 is finally upon us. Computers are threatening to take over all that is sacred in our schools. The state of Idaho is in the news because Governor Butch Otter is of the mind that every student in his state needs a laptop or a tablet and that they should all take two credits online in order to graduate high school. Teachers argue that this expensive proposition will necessitate belt-tightening around the necks – sorry, waists – of districts, who will have to cut teacher salaries or teachers. Otter and the schools superintendent and Tom Luna say this is the way to prepare students for the job market.

And I say, “Phooey.”

(Read the full NY Times article by clicking here.)

This recent post about technology not being the panacea to end all panaceas came just a couple of days after an informal conversation I had with my kiddos. It went along something like this:

Kiddo 1: Why don’t we use the SMARTboard?

Me: Do you feel we need it to learn?

Kiddo 1: No.

Me: If we have a good lesson and learn without the SMARTboard, do we have to use the SMARTboard?

Kiddos 1 AND 2: No.

After reading the above post, I talked to a colleague who makes minimal use of the SMARTboard, too. She said she prefers to circulate around the classroom, and the SMARTboard tethers her to one spot. I mentioned that one could argue it’s just like a chalkboard in that regard. Hmm.

Small sample, sure, but no doubt many others feel the way I, my colleague, and students do. It is frightening that there is a camp that believes just using technology for technology’s sake is enough, as if such a philosophy will positively impact student learning.

And speaking of frightening, the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the computer HAL-9000 refuses to obey the human Dave’s commands to open the pod bay door is pretty damn scary. That we’re entering that place in our technological timeline is similarly horrifying. Computers are exerting their unflinching, cold influence over the sounder, more malleable and reactive judgement of humans. Why is this allowed to happen?

So, I’ll argue this simple point: good teaching is good teaching, and there’s just no substitute in technology.

Sal Khan Never Taught Special Ed (or ELLs)


By now, pretty much anyone aware of the goings-on in education reform has heard of Sal Khan, the intrepid gentleman who has recorded nearly 3,000 educational videos for students to view on YouTube.

There is a list of videos organized by subject and topic over at the Khan Academy web site.

It would be disingenuous to ignore the range of Khan’s knowledge or his capacity to produce so many videos. However, to claim that he and his style are the answer to the ills of education, I think, is a bit much. In my eyes, like pretty much every other reform idea, Khan’s videos may work for some, but they won’t work for many.

It is clear Sal Khan never taught special ed.

(Or ELLs, for that matter).

Recently, I was looking for some video options to reinforce multiplication concepts, and I watched Khan’s “Basic Multiplication” video. I wanted to incorporate some visuals and videos to help engage some of my more reluctant learners.

Whenever I watch videos or consider content, I have to do so from my students’ perspectives. So, while something may make perfect sense to me as is, I know that, usually, my students will not accept it in the same way.

I thought I’d give Khan a try. Watching the video from my students’ perspective, though, it was obvious that there was no way it was going to work in my classroom (a self-contained special education class of 100% ELLs at intermediate or beginner levels).

For starters, the amount of text in the video would be overwhelming. I am guilty of sometimes having too much going on at once in my class, but at least I’m there to help filter out the extraneous information (or erase it!) and help students refocus. In this multiplication video, Khan writes the word “Multiply” and puts “2 x 3″ on the left, but then reviews addition (2 + 3) for about a minute on the right.

I'm concerned with the amount of text on this screen, as well as the lack of visual delineation between mathematical concepts.

There is no clear designation about what concept is what. The potential for confusion is too great, in my opinion, for this to be effective for many students.

It’s not only the text in the video that concerns me. It’s Khan’s delivery. Clearly, he is a well-spoken man with great depth of knowledge. However, delivery of that knowledge in a way that is too dense for students to understand means he might as well be speaking a different language. And for many ELLs, I imagine when they hear sentences such as the following, English all of a sudden does sound like a different language:

And this is probably the first time in mathematics that you’ll encounter something very neat: that sometimes, regardless of the path you take, as long as you take a correct path, you get the same answer.

Say I’m eight years old. I’m a beginner or intermediate ELL, or I’m fairly new to the country. I just heard all these crazy words: encounter, neat, regardless, path, and as long as. I’m totally lost. I need someone to help me understand the context and meaning of those words. I need someone with a little more sensitivity to my needs than Sal Khan.

Khan, shortly after that long-winded statement, says that, in considering other representations of multiplication, he will continue by drawing rows of lemons so he can continue, “our fruit analogy,” (he referred to raspberries and blueberries previously). Then:

An analogy is just when you kind of use something, as, as an – well, I won’t go too much into it.

After a while, it becomes uncomfortable – and inefficient – to listen to Khan’s colloquial manner of speech and his many verbal pauses. His video is neither concise nor succinct, and therefore it enables the mind to wander, rather than be inspired.

More verbal garbage from Khan can be found. He draws an array of lemons to talk about why multiplication is useful as an expedited form of counting. In my class (as in any class of ELLs), the critical point of arrays when they are introduced is learning what a row is and what a column is.

Khan begins to introduce what a row is:

A row is kind of a, the side-to-side lemons. I think you know what a row is. I don’t want to talk down to you.

Yet, unfortunately, with a statement like that, Khan is talking down. Because he assumes that everyone knows what a row is, he cuts off populations with his pomposity and makes it difficult to access the information.

I think if I made a list of all the words and phrases Khan uses in the video that would be stumbling blocks for ELLs and/or students with disabilities, I would come off as a whiner. However, in my estimation, it’s a fairly long list.

Look, there is some value to what Khan is doing. Just watching the video gave me some ideas of ways I could approach multiplication with my students. However, the mission statement of the Khan academy is not to help teachers teach. On the web site’s about page, it says:

We’re a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

Hmm. Well, if “anyone anywhere” means kids who are fluent in English and have the ability to follow dense text peppered by colloquial speech, then these types of videos will be fine. However, if “anyone anywhere” means, truly, anyone anywhere, then Khan has quite a long way to go.

I am sharing the video I analyzed so that you may do the same, if you choose. Would this video work for ELLs? Do you know students with disabilities who would be overwhelmed by it? Does it serve the needs of all students? See for yourself and determine your own answer!