Archive for September, 2009

Building A Blog for Your Classroom

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

This year in addition to my consulting work, I will be a visiting art teacher at a local private school.  This school has phenomenal technology resources and every student with whom I will be working has a laptop they are assigned for educational use.    They are taught to use this resource ethically, effectively and responsibly.

As part of the art history instruction that I will be providing, I have created a blog. Students will use this blog to visit a variety of images that support instruction about medieval art.  However, by linking to or posting copyrighted images, I have had to be very aware of copyright and usage permissions.  As educators, you may be thinking of using a blog to support your instruction, however you may not have thought about the importance of paying attention to copyright and usage.  Educators, as you know, are able to use materials in different ways in order to promote learning as is outlined in the fair use and copyright laws for educational purposes.

Let me walk you through my process of creating a blog that supports my instruction.   I set up an account at tumblr.com (there are many blog hosts, this blog is through wordpress, others through blogspot, etc.).  After working with the technology director at our school to make certain that I was working in accordance with the school’s established technology policies, I wrote my first post.  If you are thinking about using a blog for your classroom, it is essential that you work with your school administration to make sure that you are following privacy and technology procedures.  These procedures are put in place to protect you, your students and your school.   If your school does not have established technology procedures, take some initiative and draft some with the help of your administration team.

For my blog, I knew that I wanted to download or link to images about Medieval Islamic Art.  I had already established that I might want to use Mark Harden’s Artchive or a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art .   Before I could link to these,  I had to read the terms and conditions for using the sites.  On Mark Harden’s site, a fabulous archive of art images throughout history, he provides information about how to use the images from his website.   After reading this, I realized that I would need to write to him for information to link to his website.  In meantime, I was able to use the Metropolitan Museum of Art link, because under their terms and conditions it tells me that since my blog does not support advertising and is for educational purposes, I may link to the images on the website.  Every website has different usage rules.  If you can’t find posted policies, I recommend contacting the website directly and requesting permission.   I believe that it is crucial that we model ethical use of media in our classroom.  Just as you would not quote a text in a paper without citing it, you must also consider these copyright issues.

So far the blog has been a great way for me to link with my students.  Not only has it been fun to share images and talk about the art work, but it has given me a great forum to get discussion threads started about art.  It has also given me a way to show parents what it means to be a student in my classroom.  And today I learned a great lesson from one of my students–how to add a discussion thread to my blog using code.   I love the dynamic and collaborative nature of blogging in the classroom.  If you have not started one already, please consider trying it out today!

On the President’s Message

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama addressed our nation’s students.  Regardless of  personal political beliefs and controversy aside,  the address had many essential messages that I felt were timely and important for students.    Many educators were clearly thinking about what this address meant for students.  As an educator, I have spent countless hours evaluating my methods of teaching, considering pedagogical theories, assessing student’s learning modalities and inventory of knowledge and skills.  As a parent,  I have acted as an advocate for my children and made certain that our home fosters the support, nutrition, rest and stimulation needed to attend to learning.    While educators and parents talk about building accountability in students, how often are students implored to be accountable?  I was pleased to hear President Obama do just this in his address.  Learning is a partnership between teachers, parents and students.  If students are not acting responsibly and with accountability, how can learning take place?

President Obama’s address reminded me that educators and parents can foster this sense of responsibility in their students.   There are many activities that teachers can do in their classroom that foster a sense of ownership over learning.   In Edstrom Educational Consulting instructional seminars, we often talk about helping students be active learners.  After defining what active learning looks like, we encourage teachers to use a rubric that outlines these ideals of active learning and help students evaluate their success as learners.

Parents can also build a climate that teaches self-motivation and responsibility to their children at home.  There are many parenting models, such as the one outlined in Redirecting Children’s Behavior by Kathryn Kvols, that teach children responsibility and self-motivation.    We, as parents, want to encourage students to self-monitor their learning, to challenge themselves, and to find pleasure in the discovery and new ideas.

As you head to your classrooms or homes, think about what you can do today to encourage responsibility in our nation’s students.    Let’s give students the toolbox to be active and responsible learners and then see what they can build with those tools.

Time to Differentiate

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of observing several schools as they prepare for a new crop of students and the 2009-2010 year.    Each of these schools has its own educational philosophy, running the gamut from extremely traditional to highly progressive.  However, regardless the philosophy, teachers from all of these schools find themselves grappling with the age-old question of “How do I teach each student when each student is so very different.”   In response, I have found myself thinking a lot about differentiation and the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson.

I first encountered the work of Dr. Tomlinson when I was a fairly new teacher in a public school classroom in New Jersey.  Students in my classroom were as different as the snowflakes that would fall every winter–a unique combination of skills, knowledge, strengths, talents and weaknesses.   As a public school teacher, I did not have a low student to teacher ratio and needed to teach all 25+ students at the same time.  Dr. Tomlinson’s philosophy of differentiated instruction was shared with me at the perfect time.

At the crux of her work is the idea that we as teachers have the responsibility to know our students very, very well.  We must inventory prior knowledge and skills before we teach.  We must create an environment that challenges every student in the best way for learning and that is flexible.  We must acknowledge that our “strongest” students may have areas of weakness or deficit and that students who need the most help may have areas of incredibly rich knowledge and ability.   We are required as educators to constantly develop lessons and experiences that meet the needs of all students.  Teachers have the choice whether to be daunted by this or whether to be stimulated by the exciting intellectual puzzle that differentiated instruction can be.

For the fall of 2009, we at Edstrom Educational Consulting are committed to helping teachers discover how rewarding and exciting it can be to differentiate instruction in their classrooms.   We have developed a wonderful instructional seminar that will show teachers how to apply the theories of Dr. Tomlinson to their own instruction.   In workshop format, we will tackle the individual needs of each teacher (as is only appropriate in a seminar on differentiated instruction) and help develop model differentiated lesson plans that can be implemented the following day in school.   We will bring these seminars to schools for private instruction and will also provide some open seminar dates throughout the year in order to meet the needs of all teachers.

Update:  Met Life recently came out with a survey that hits upon why educators need to learn more about differentiated instruction!  Check it out here!

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