Sunday, April 19, 2015

School Aid Act

After reading about, and watching the video regarding the requirements of the revised school code, the first potential "pitfall" I see is quality control. It states that the school must provide a course of appropriate instruction and rigor, the the school itself is responsible for quality control. I see this a potential problem, especially with small districts, like charter schools who may not employ a specialist in curriculum, etc. Charter schools are public schools. What happens in a future scenario where a student or parent alleges that an online course did not prepare or teach them the way they expected?

Another potential challenge is concerning the "no-seat waiver" in non-cyber approved schools. There is a maximum of 25% participation. I would think there would need to be a written protocol on how those students are chosen. I understand many districts do have written protocols and policies, however, there are many smaller charter schools that are in non-compliance or do not have written policies.

I especially identified with the following scenario personally:

You're a rural district with only a few hundred students total. A child wants to take courses like calculus, but they cannot feasibly be offered by your high school.

Not calculus specifically, but in math. I have discussed this student before. He understands new math concepts very quickly after only a brief example. I often put him on a laptop and login to his mobymax account and do math so we aren't holding him back. Also, when he gets bored he starts clowning around and he moved much too quickly for the other students in the class.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Virtual Schooling Follow up

To follow up on last weeks' post, I am reflecting on the posted prompts .

Would you have appreciated the opportunity to take online courses when you were in school?
I would have appreciated the opportunity to go to take online courses. I went to a high school where many of the students were affluent, and I was not. I had difficulty identifying with the other kids I went to school with. I was also somewhat socially awkward and did not speak up if there might be a chance I was wrong. I really couldn't wait to get out of high school, and I think this experience caused me to postpone going to college right of school. There were many events happening, personally, and socially, that prevented me from being the best student I could be. Considering my daughter is like me, I am really going to have to consider this with her. As a parent, I want to challenge her to overcome this as I had to, but I also don't want her to hate school.

What/How is online learning utilized in your current situation?
In my current situation, I have a full-time job and two kids who also have responsibilities. There is too many places to be in day. Online learning has allowed me to take classes I would otherwise be unable to take, Additionally, it has allowed me to individualize for my students somewhat in many areas. Having a smart phone also gives me these much needed reminders of what needs to be done and who needs to be where.

What types of students/learners are engaging in online courses where you work? How do they fit with the descriptions from the readings?
All of my students participate in online learning using a program I purchased. It is slowly being adopted by the other teachers. I found it interesting , though, when last year one of my brightest students made a comment to me. He said he didn't like it, he liked it better when I did it to the whole class on the Promethean board. However, only he and 3 other students could understand the math only this way, the other students needed more, such as the online tutorials and digital manipulatives. I have also talked to other teachers about their online learning experiences. Several teachers are getting their Masters through accelerated programs at a reputable university where the classes are only 4 weeks long and they have the same group members during their entire time. I really don't agree with either scenario. I have talked to a teacher who got her Masters in Educational Technology. She said it was a new program and they just kept taking the same classes over again???? This is startling. There was nothing about design or planning or development. I also have had groups where I did not get along with the group members, or they didn't do their fair share, or they liked to criticize without giving suggestions. I can't imagine being with those group members for the entirety of my graduate school experience. I feel like you have to find a very fine balance between online learning and taking short cuts. There should still be the same academic expectations as a traditional environment.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Virtual Schooling; Myth VS. Facts

After viewing the video posted to the weeks content. the first thing that surprised me is the law in the state of Michigan pertaining to financial responsibility. I had no idea that virtual schooling providers were independent of a school district and that the home school district would be required to pay. I did have some idea that some schools provide a partial block of online learning only because I worked for an educational publisher and dealt with many schools and districts who purchased digital products.
It certainly didn't surprise me that a virtual education is not only for gifted learners, I have seen and thought that this kind of education accommodating different types of learners, including at risk students and students needing an individualized pace and instruction.
I was also not surprised that virtual schooling does not lack interaction. I feel that many times, especially introverted students receive more interaction because they can ask questions without an audience, without fear of being ostracized and also posting to a message board for other students to answer. I also feel that it's helpful to the instructor since they are not being asked the same question over and over again, which often happens.
I also feel that there are so many ways for students to turn in homework, email, google groups, and other services and also sharing ideas through cloud based services, it is a lot easier to collaborate. It also helps alleviate the issue of constantly losing assignments for unorganized students. However, while they are not isolated, I think the use of video based interaction like google hangouts is necessary so we don't lose out on personal communication skills that are needed in the working world.
I can also see how online teachers work harder and is more than just putting it up on a website. There is constant revising and as new technology emerges, we are always looking at the many options we have and also teaching the students how to use that technology in addition to the standards-based content. While I teach in a traditional classroom, I have 8 laptops in my room and spend a vast amount of time revising the website to adjust for new students and different learners. I spend my entire Sunday every week just revising the website. This is in addition to the 9 page weekly lesson plan with standards, I Can statements, essential question, etc.
I also feel students really need to be self motivated or self starters to succeed in an online learning environment. It is very easy to slack off when you don't have someone harassing you for missing assignments and fooling around.
I found most of the myths not surprising, but most surprising was how many variables go into online learning such as state laws and financial responsibility. I am aware of schools doing blended learning but I haven't been able to experience that on my own.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Virtual Schooling, what do I know?

I will admit, I do not know a whole lot about complete immersion in a completely online format as an instructor. As a student, I have had a lot of experience.
Before my current teaching position, I worked for a publishing company in the Digital Installation dept., as part of the National Geographic team. It was an area for all digital based products from kinder all the way to college level. My dept was focused K-12 products. There were many products available in reading, grammar, and science, but none for math. Occasionally, when I was out of things to do, I helped the other teams catch up, so I got a glimpse of the higher education academia realm. These were the areas where international accounts were.
In my area, I did have contact with districts that conducted education wholly online. It appeared that it would usually be a sub-district within a district.  I internally made the vague assumption (not saying it was correct or not) that these types of schools were designed for kids who have problems adjusting to traditional school. It also appeared that some states used virtual learning more than others and especially where it is year round school. I had also given product training to a teacher who was a solely virtual schooling teacher,
What I think about virtual schooling is this. I believe it hugely beneficial for advanced kids so they aren't being held back by the other students. I also believe it beneficial for students who have social issues that interfere with  learning, There is an awful lot of time being wasted doing "housekeeping" in a classroom such as paperwork, lunch count, homework procedures, journalism, and the most time consuming of all, behavior problems. I must spend at least an hour a day dealing with the same behavior problems daily. These problems are expected due to some very traumatic backgrounds.
How I know how much time is wasted is how I compare it to a brief homeschooling. While my son is very outgoing, my daughter is the opposite and struggles socially. I kept her out for about a month until we moved. I made lesson plans to be accessed online with instructions under the guidance of her grandparents with explicit instructions. I would then check it in the evening, She completed all her work in 2 hours. 2 hours!! I gave her way more than I would my own students (she was the same age). After this little experiment, I noted that her writing and spelling greatly improved. This leads me to think about how much instructional time is really wasted in a traditional classroom. There are many facets to homeschooling and virtual schooling and I am not asserting it should be one way or another, but I do believe a combination allows for students to progress at an an individualized rate.
Now, I use a whole curriculum program for my students. I have one who can do crazy mental math. He took his placement test and he has advanced 2.5 grade levels in just 6 months. When I do math lessons, this is what he does because he is bored. He is also ELL so it is hard for him to explain his thinking to other students in a way they understand.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reflections on Wikipedia and Youtube

First, I want to comment on how you would determine what is reliable information on Wikipedia and what is not. I usually look at the references. There is usually a a link you click on to take you to the reference. You can then click on the reference and determine if it is reputable. When you are linking to someone's blog, that is much different than looking at a peer reviewed article. Even magazines and the news do this with bias and manipulate facts to get people to watch.  "See how you can avoid dying with this one simple trick, watch at 6...."
That being said, I think since news has become so mainstream on the internet, new sources are becoming too lazy, or too eager, to get the story out first without checking sources. I have read about this too often over the past two years. Writers creating fictional human interest stories, CNN (generally thought to be a reputable source) reporting facts that end up not being 100% factual...You have to consider what the source is, who the author(s) is, the organization and whether they have some sort of agenda. Too often a single incident becomes "a nationwide epidemic".
I would not tell my students that wikipedia is bad, but I have told them to be careful of using wikipedia as a sole reference. I tell them to double check and make sure that the facts are in another reputable source, for example check the reference. I tell them anyone can post anything on the internet. They do believe everything they read on the internet is true, "but I saw it on the internet" which becomes a whole new conversation about Youtube and evidence of ghosts and UFO's.
I hear often "yes, it's true, I saw the ghost, UFO, lights, werewolf etc. on Youtube. There is evidence." Then I have to have to explain about editing tools and software and how anyone can create a video or picture to show anything they want. The Lochness monster has been proven fake by the man who did it yet they believe it because The History channel is has shows on it's schedule that are not true but appear to be with a fine print disclaimer. They had a similar show on mermaids. I spent way too much time explaining that the mermaid show was not real. :But it was on the History Channel!"  It's very difficult to make them understand this. Yet,  I give them a National Geographic and they bring it to me and ask if it's true.
I do think telling students Wikipedia is bad would taint the experience, and not always necessarily true. There are some very valid resources and unbiased information there. One of the reasons I like to also check Wikipedia is the seemingly lack of bias. That's why I would give them the facts, the warnings and tell them to  validate with another reputable source. I think you would need to give them a list of reputable vs. non-reputable sources as well as a discussion educating them on cross referencing.

Judging the Quality of Wikis and Non-vetted Sites

Wikipedia has been known to be a good foundation or go to for information. It does show up first in all searches for information. I'll admit I do like Wikipedia because it seems to have just the facts, rather than opinions and lists several categories and "further reading". Having said that, I have been told during my entire undergrad that, "sure, use it as a frame of reference but double check the facts and don't take it as 100% factual." In other words, take a look, but double check the sources.

When thinking about it though, I imagine it would be difficult to post to Wikipedia without subconsciously having some sort of bias. I also remember reading an article about one author/poster who spends a lot of time filtering through Wikipedia. His issue is a certain phrase. I can't remember specifically what the phrasing was, but I recall it was grammatically correct. He just has an issue with it, so he spends all his free time searching all the Wikipedia pages seeking out this phrase and editing it to reflect basically the same meaning, but a difference in choice of wording.

I have myself followed the same guidelines when guiding my students in research, don't take it as the holy grail, but is is a resource of some value. Check the sources, seek out other well known reputable sources and cross reference. I myself use Wikipedia frequently as well as the links posted in the reference section.

Both articles posted on CNET claim that Wikipedia is a valid source (although with a 1/3 more errors than Britannica), as much as the Encyclopedia Britannica, although it's pointed out that Britannica is not infallible either. The author also points out both sources have mistakes or misinformation in a study. With the push in the academic and business world, there is always the push for collaboration and Wikipedia does use collaboration in a very broad way including users and experts in all fields and industries.

In terms of YouTube, school tube, and teacher tube, I'll admit I use Youtube much more than the latter two. The reason for this is simply accessibility. The selection and variety on Youtube is much wider and many more choices than the other two. Admittedly, I have not tried school tube and teacher tube in some time. I will have to investigate to make a more informed decision. However, when I had tried it, I could not find videos that had exactly what I was looking for. Youtube has a much larger variety. I do need to watch my students closely because they do like to click suggested or popular videos when they think I am not watching, and some of the videos/ads are risky and inappropriate. But I have never not found what I was looking for on Youtube. I also like that I can subscribe to channels and they will be emailed to me when a new video is posted. The students easily recognize Youtube and it usually gets their full attention. I also like that teachers post tutorials and lessons that they have made and uploaded. You can find many grade level books being read by teachers as well, eliminating the need for me to purchase out of my own pocket. I also use Youtube for studying/relaxing music when students are doing independent and group work. If I forget, many of them ask me to turn on the "concentrating music". Learnzillion, which is a resource recommended by the common core website also has complete lessons with slides and tutorials specific to each standard.  Since I have to find most of my own resources, this has been extremely invaluable. I have an app for the common core and they list recommended resources. Also, this app is much easier to read than the huge sections on the Common Core website ( They also have a resource pinner which allows access to resources and assessments other teachers have pinned.

Another added benefit of Youtube is accessibility. Many websites have a share link specifically for Youtube, making it simple to add a video to the classroom website or uploading a screencast. I;m not sure about the other two, but I also use the "embed" feature quite frequently. My philosophy on using technologies has been pretty consistent. I am looking for ease of use, user friendly for the grade level of my students, and availability of resources aligned to the common core.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Educational Blogs

In searching for relevant blogs to add to my RSS feed, I found several of interest. However, I have decided to focus on a few that I am using on a regular basis.  While we have PC monitring programs in the PC lab, I would like to have one for my laptops in the classroom. I rotate within groups in 20 minute chunks between 2 groups. I also use this time as a "study hour" for groups not on the laptops to ask questions on math packets, readings, or get feedback on longterm projects. Because of this, I am not necessarily able to monitor what students are doing on the laptops as closely as I'd like. They know this and take advantage.
In my search on open source laptop monitoring software, I found several blogs, but chose (School Computing screen monitoring wikia). I chose this blog because it has several links. I am looking for more than a free trial because I would need to spend my own money and I am already using too much of my own funds to meet the needs of my students. I will need to allocate some time to research each of these links.
Another blog I found interesting is Open software for schools at (PM technology blog). I would also like to research these and complete sign ups for sampling. A problem I have seen is that an web based program is available for free for a time, then without warning they are no longer accepting new sign ups and you must now purchase a subscription. Those who already signed up for an account previously continue to have free access. I saw this with Glogster. I hadn't signed up and when I had a project I planned to use, I could not without purchasing a subscription.

Twitter Followers:

Due to the fact I had been following some educational twitter accounts, I had some teachers following me. After viewing their profile, I in turn followed them. I have posted these in the edit portion of the PLN activity with a brief description.

Reflection on Resources/Tools:

There were a few that I had already followed or subscribed to. Emerging Ed Tech is one that I have regularly used. I had originally subscribed to their newsletter to receive the free ebook offered on free ed tech resources for teachers. I also receive a print publication from them as well. I had created a classroom wiki back in 2010, but at the time found it cumbersome. Since then, I had found weebly which was very easy to use and many types of media available. I;m sure wikispaces has updated since then, so we'll see how user friendly it is.

Update 10/2015:
I had to use wikispaces for another collaborative project, Horizon Report Trends. There are some improvements, although I found some aspects still cumbersome. Although, it is an exceptional tool for group projects as it logs each activity by each group member.