Confessions Of An Anti-Social Teacher

This week I started a social network. No, I am not trying to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. I have no desire for a billion users. The nine who already signed up are enough for me. This week’s assignment for my Educational Technology class was to create our own social network.The trouble I’ve always had with social networking is that it seems to take up a lot of time that could be better spent accomplishing in other ways. It just seems strange to me when I watch other people lives taken over by the struggle to keep in constant contact with their 247 closest friends.

Besides my reluctance to engage in Facebook style social media, I had another dilemma with the assignment. I couldn’t exactly enroll all of my second graders into my network. They are not yet computer literate for something as complex as this. I wondered who could I even create a network with. Was there anyone who would join? I went ahead anyway and created a social network. I chose Edmodo because it was a closed system. I couldn’t embarrass myself if nobody would see. It was a lonely little network. I could talk to myself, post to myself and reply to myself. I wasn’t sure if when I was posting, I was replying or vice versa. Either way it was a sad, lonely existence for the sole member of my social network. There had to be a better way.

I suggested to the course director that instead of assigning the twenty people in the course to create their own individual networks, let us make one network for twenty people. The idea was that if we all make an effort to post and reply to each other’s posts, we would have, in essence, created our own private social network. It seemed to be within the parameters of the assignment. He agreed that we could do it and reassured me that even if it doesn’t work, I will have gained from the experience. I guess that answer works for anything that you are not risking your life to try.

So, I invited my fellow classmate to join my network. People began signing up. It is impossible to describe the thrill as my idea caught on and people joined the group. We are pushing towards ten members. Most have posted and replied. Conversations have been ping ponging back and forth. Teachers are sharing classroom ideas. Others are uploading their files. It is exhilarating to watch an idea come to life.

Sometimes a person needs to seize the initiative. Pounce on an idea and run with it. See where you end up. Often it will take you to a place that you could not imagine. New vistas may be opened that were previously uncharted. I didn’t intend for this result. I was just looking for a way to complete my assignment. Unexpectedly, my eyes were opened to a brand new perspective.

I still do not have a lot of time for social networking. But now, I must definitely admit that I see the benefits and the draw of a network at a professional level. It brings a level of vitality to the ongoing professional development that a teacher must do to stay on top of their field. By connecting to other educators with whom ideas can be discussed and methods can be perfected, you are creating your own Personal Learning Network.

Will it continue? I don’t know. At what level of involvement? I am not sure. I will see where this trip takes me. I gained from the process. I connected to many other dedicated educators. It will be interesting to see where it goes….and if you see me online, feel free to friend me!!

There’s An App For That

     In the Education Technology course I am taking there has been a lot of focus of late on using the myriad of different web productivity tool available online. There are many useful tools that save a lot of time and effort. Tools that are a low cost way to help us accomplish in our teaching and in our everyday lives. On an almost daily basis we use these tools without even thinking about the service they are providing to us. It has been fun to try out different tools as they are introduced in the course. The truth is that I enjoyed trying out Web 2.0 tools even before I started the course.

     As I went through this week’s chapter, I felt a nagging feeling of being bothered. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Perhaps it was that every quote was from before 2010…. but a lot of the statements were still accurate. Spending some time thinking about it, I realized that I haven’t been trying out as many Web 2.0 tools on my computer because there is usually an app for it on my phone. Lately I have spent less time on my la[top and more on my iPhone. Most of my email is sent from my phone. I tweet from my phone. I bank from my phone. I can blog from my phone. I video edit from my phone. I take and edit pictures from my phone. I shop from my phone. Just about any new Web 2.0 tools in on my phone via the App Store. 

    When the course textbook was written way back in 2010, the iPad was yet to be introduced. There were only 140,000 apps in the App Store – not the million apps that there are now. People didn’t use mobile devices to access the internet the same way. Just look in the news. Computer sales are down. Tablet sales are up. The iPhone and iPad are game changers. Yes, we still use the web tools, but now they are called apps. 

    If I had to pick my productivity tool…I would say it is my phone. I don’t need to surf to a website anymore. I just click on the app and it is right there. I can do everything that I need to do on it. My computer doesn’t go on in class that often anymore. My phone is my camera. My phone is my voice recorder. My phone is my iPod. If my personal classroom setup was a little more advanced, I would be using Apple TV to project my iPhone screen onto my Smartboard.  All of Web 2.0 is on my phone. I find that I don’t take out my laptop unless I need to type for a larger amount of time and do not want to use my thumb to do it. 

         My phone is replacing a lot of the things that I used to do on the computer. It is not exactly Web 2.0 and it is certainly not free. However it is the portal to all things Web 2.0. It is an all in one productivity tool giving me easy access to the tools that I use on a frequent basis.

     Looking back on my textbook that was written just a couple of years ago gives me an appreciation for how fast technology is advancing. It is so easy to forget. Of course we remember the good old days before cell phones. But do we really recognize the progression we have made. Do we see how much it has made our lives easier. Sometimes we need to take a second to appreciate what we have. We need to find the time to stop and think about the evolution of technology and to find a way to help ourselves remember where we were and how far we are going. But if you can’t find the time….there is probably an app for that also. 

Throw Out That Translation Packet

“What does the word mean?”

“I don’t know?” replies your child.

“Weren’t you in class?”

You are frustrated. For homework, your son was supposed to review and summarize three pessukim and he doesn’t know them. You are having a hard time figuring out if he was even anywhere near the classroom when the Rebbi taught the Chumash. You start looking through the house. Perhaps you still have the teitch packet that the Rebbi sent home on the first day of the year. It takes twenty minutes to find the crumpled up packet under your son’s bed. Can there be a better homework solution?

I wish to propose a different solution, but first let me digress. Last summer was the Siyum Hashas in Metlife Arena. It was a life altering experience for many people there…including me. By learning just (I don’t know if you can say “just” when referring to a Daf of Gemara) one Daf per day, a person could finish the entire Shas in seven and a half years. I will admit. It was inspiring to see how many people finished. I decided that there was no way I would ever finish if I didn’t start. So I started. I still don’t know if I will be able to keep it up for seven and a half years, but at least I started. It feels good to know that I have opened up a Gemara every day since August 2.

Often I learn the Daf by listening to an online shiur. There are literally dozens of online Daf Yomi shiurim. There are even websites that keep track of the shiurim[i] that can be found online. I can enjoy a shiur from a Rav who lives in New York, Chicago or even Israel. If the Daf is not your thing, there are websites with thousands of free shiurim on any Torah topic you could desire.

Why not make let the Rebbeim and Moros in our schools record the Chumash that they teach. They can post it and let the talmidim/talmidos use it when necessary. It only takes a minute to record a possuk with the teitch. Most phones have a recording option. The teacher can even record the possuk in class itself for later listening. By the end of the school year, they could have a database of every single possuk that the class learned.

I am not going to bore you, my dear reader, with technical details of exactly how to create such a podcast. I just want to talk in generalities the few ways that seem to work for me. The simplest way I have accomplished this has been to record a voice memo on my phone. Then I simply send out a class email to the parents with my recording as an attachment. It is not posted anywhere. It is just an email. All I need is my phone and email. (I do have a list of all the parents so I can send to everybody with one click.)

The next level is to record the audio and post it online. I do less of this. When I have a little bit more time, and I will stress, a little more time. It really doesn’t need to take that much time. I will video myself reading the possuk. If you have permission to video your students, take a video them reading it. They enjoy it more. Then, I post it onto YouTube as an unlisted video. I don’t want just anybody to be able to search and find it. Afterwards, I use the link to post it to my webpage. It is there for the parents to see whenever they want it.

If you record the students, then you can only use it that year. When you record yourself, you can use it year after year. Create a database of pessukim for yourself. Let it be accessible to those who need it. The parents don’t know exactly how you translated the possuk. The parents don’t know exactly the tune you used. The parents don’t know exactly what happens in class. Video it. Let them have a glimpse into your classroom. Let them join you in the education of their children.

Not all those who can, should blog

Those who know me, have heard me complain about people who use technology because it is there. They are just out to try the next new thing and struggle in their attempt to make it relevant in the classroom. Usually it ends up as a waste of time for the students. I always stress that Technology needs to be a tool to help you in your lesson. You need to ask yourself, “What am I gaining by injecting this particular piece of technology into my lesson”.

This being said, I turn my attention to The Blog. It seems to me that for some people it is a must. A professional who is being hired by clients should have a blog. The client will want to go online and want to see that the person that he is about to hire is an expert in his field. A blog can convey just that. Some people begin their blog because they have an idea to promote. An example of this would be one of the many blogs on cooking or one that is blogging about the latest great deals that are out.

When it comes to the field of Education, teachers are often among the first to embrace a technology. But then they get stuck. “I just got a room full of iPads and now how exactly will that help me in my history lesson.” Usually they find a creative way to use it…eventually. So when it come to blogging, many teachers decide to make a class blog. It will be a place that they can post homework and let the students ask questions about all types of things and then they can post assignments and homework and then they can post more homework and… it usually ends up a waste of time both to the teacher and the students. There are more effective ways of posting homework. There are more effective ways of getting the students to collaborate together. I think a teacher needs to think of the reason they are making the blog and then go and figure out if this is the best forum to accomplish that goals.

An example that might work. Supposed a teacher assigned a long term science project. The students might blog their findings in an ongoing blog. Or the teacher could have one professionally to highlight their own skills and attributes. An example of this would be a reading specialist who has a blog on ideas that help children learn to read.

A Reason to Blog

I am not certain if I have a good reason to begin a blog. i am not sure if I need a good reason to begin a blog. But if I do not start, I will never know. So, I begin. I begin to write to tell the world my thoughts and musings. I write with a unique perspective that is mine only and relish the ability to share it with you, my dear readers.