Monday, November 26, 2012

The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers

I recently came across the following publication entitled: "The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers," which can be found at the following link.
My initial reaction to this article was that I was shocked.  How in the world could a teacher have a black board or chalk board in his or her classroom and not know what to use it for?  I look at a chalkboard as an "ancient artifact" that belongs in the "Museum of Obsolete Objects."  (By the way, you can actually visit this museum on YouTube at  There are some really interesting videos on there.  Did you know that the fax machine has been considered an "obsolete object" since 1999?) Anyway, when reading through the manual above, I was amazed to find that the publication actually showed the teachers step by step directions as to how the black board should be used in the classroom in order o improve lesson instruction.  It went so far as explaining to the teachers to write strokes on the board to teach arithmetic, and to count each stroke one by one when doing so, so as not to confuse the students. Teachers were confused as to how to properly integrate black boards in their lessons in order to reach their students.  The black board was the ideal Education Technology tool to have in one's classroom in the mid-1800's.  It was designed to be a "luminous object" in the classroom.  The ideal size of black board to have in one's classroom was," the bigger, the better."
          My, oh my, how far we have come today!  When I first stepped foot in my classroom six years ago and saw that there was a black board there, I asked my admin, "Where's the dry erase board?"  There was absolutely no way I was going to use a black board in my classroom.  I personally could not stand using the chalk - it must have been a sensory issue with me.  I was given an overhead projector and a pull down screen.  I was then given a dry erase board later that school year.  A few years later, I was given a SMART Board to use in my classroom.  And believe it or not, I asked myself the same questions that teachers asked themselves back in the 1800's.  How was I going to use a SMART Board in my classroom in order to improve student learning?  I honestly had no idea.  When reflecting on this experience, I myself am no different than the teachers of the "black board era" of the mid-1800's.  What I do know is that technology - any Educational Technology that we are given - is a tool, it's merely just a tool.  It is easy for the technology to become a novelty and then become misused or overused.  It might be "cool" or fun, but is it really improving student learning?  No, it's become a toy instead.  Teachers need continuous professional development in order to keep up with today's technology which is constantly changing, myself included.  I have been working diligently to revamp my lessons in ways that will improve student learning and I am happy to say that I am seeing the fruits of my labor.  If teachers do not want to put in the time and training in order to improve their lessons and integrate Ed Tech effectively, then why bother using Educational Technology at all?  They might as well just read the manual "Black Board in the Primary School."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Apps That Inspire Creativity

Inspiring creativity in all children, and especially those with disabilities, is a wonderful goal for all providers and teachers. However, time demands often make this is lofty goal to achieve in the classroom. So I would like to mention several wonderful Apps that anyone can use at home or in school to help children play, think and work more creatively.
Faces iMake - Right Brain Creativity by iMagine Machine is an App for creating collages from pictures of every-day objects. It teaches kids to look at the world around them in a new way, and to find and use playful visual metaphors as they create playful faces. Imagine using a banana as a nose or a potato as an ear when creating the image of a face. The capacity to understand and apply metaphors to shapes while ignoring their predesigned name and function is a great 'right brain' activity and one that can bolster creativity skills in all children.

A recent addition to Faces iMake is FACEWORLD - a virtual space where users create together, modify and improve each other’s artwork in a game-like environment. For example, a user can create a face, upload it to FaceWorld and within minutes someone on the other side of the county, can download it to their own iPad, modify it and upload a new version to appear next to the original. While still playful, the App encourages creative collaboration between kids.
Felt Board by Software Smoothie App has been carefully designed to encourage open-ended creative play. While it's impossible to include every imaginable prop or costume a child might imagine in one place, the developers of this App tried to include a wide variety of character combinations, facial expressions, settings and props to cover themes that will inspire children to build original or modified creations.
As kids often do in their play, one object can be used to represent another. For instance, the wooden sword in a Felt Board can be used as flagpoles on the pirate ship, or arms for snowmen in a winter scene. The developer’s kept the interface as simple as possible, with limited sound effects and other distractions, so that all of the creative work is done in the mind of the child. This can be ideal for children with autism who often work best in visual environments with fewer distractions and noises.
The backgrounds, costumes, accessories and characters in Felt Board are kept in separate categories, not only as a way to organize the App, but also to encourage children to explore the different themes by mixing and matching references. What happens when a pirate character and a pig land on the moon together? How different is the princess's story if she is placed in the dark woods as opposed to a sunny meadow? Imaginative play in childhood is a key building block for future innovation and creative problem solving as an adult. A child who can transform a wooden sword into a flagpole might become an adult who can think outside of the box.
Toca Boca, the leading digital toy developer, recently released Toca Tailor, a mobile App that sparks creativity and imagination in children ages four years and older through the design of outfits. The App offers a seemingly limitless palette of colors, fabrics and patterns with which to work. Wardrobes come together through mixing and matching 24 different fabrics and patterns, playing with color combinations, adjusting hemlines and sleeve lengths and adding personal, signature touches along the way. The App also includes a camera feature that allows users to bring real-world surroundings into the design studio.
Whether you are a teacher, provider, parent or caregiver of a young child, you will find that all of these Apps can help unlock a child’s creativity and desire to play. They might unlock yours as well!

Collaborative Learning: A Changing World

As we head further into the 21st Century, the face of education is changing due to various factors.  A main factor is that Education Technology is constantly evolving.  A huge benefit of this is that our learning can now extend beyond the walls of our classroom.  In fact, there are no boundaries whatsoever.  This can lead to a much greater amount of collaboration.  How are we going to get to that point?  Well, it's not going to happen automatically.  Teachers are going to need to be proactive in order to make it happen.

Here are three things they can do:

1) Teachers need to have an strong understanding of 21st Century Skills and must be willing to apply them.  This includes a classroom environment that is rich in Educational Technology.  Knowing how to integrate the Educational Technology properly is crucial to teaching the class effectively.  

2) Teachers need to put a greater emphasis on Personalized Learning in order to have a greater impact on their students instead of learning according to the curriculum.  This also includes creating lessons that are engaging and interactive.  By personalizing our content and instruction according to the needs and interests of our students, we are enabling our students to connect with our content and skills at much deeper levels.  

3) After teachers have mastered the above two goals, the final goal is to inspire collaboration. Teachers can implement this goal be encouraging all students in their classes - and even other classes to contribute to something greater – the contributions of many can  ensue in something much greater than those from any individual. As we can take our learning beyond our classroom walls, this is definitely something that can be done.

See how SMART Technologies classroom technology tools in the future will take learning beyond classroom walls and add exciting new dimensions to student collaboration.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Personalized Learning Means to Me

When starting this blog post, I decided to google the term "Personalized Learning."  The following is what I found and has been taken from Wikipedia.  

Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogycurriculum and learning environments to meet the needs and aspirations of individual learners, often with extensive use of technology in the process. It is an emerging trend in K-12 education, popular among educators due to the ways in which personalized learning environments can support the shift from curriculum-focused education to learner-focused education.

The definition above immediately caused a bunch of questions to arise in my head.  First, why wouldn't an educator use Personalized  Learning to guide instruction?  We all have a curriculum to drive our instructions in each of classrooms - and for many students, it works.  But what about those students who need extra support or those who need enrichment and therefore the curriculum does not work for them?  How do we teach those students?  

Second, the students entering our classrooms nowadays are not the same type of students who were entering the classroom twenty years ago.  So, how can we expect to successfully educate our students the same way that we were educated twenty years ago?  It's just not going to work.  Something has go to change in our instruction.

Third, our students are surrounded by various types of technology.  Whether it's video games, mobile devices, computers, technology is a part of life and there is no point of denying that.  I do not know any child who has not been motivated by Educational Technology.  Educational Technology allows the user (i.e the student) the ability to control it, to be engaged with it, and to interact with it.  In addition, it is very easy to modify the settings of Educational Technology in order to meet the needs of diverse learners.  So why not use Educational Technology to drive our instruction and personalize the learning for our students?  

Personalized Learning enables us to create lesson content that suit our students - not our curriculum.  In order for any student to learn and internalize content and/or skill, the student must be able to connect with the content and make meaning out of the content.  When developing lessons for our students, we are going to be more successful in our instruction if the content takes into account the interests and motivations of our students.  There is a much greater chance that our students will enjoy learning the material and will internalize what is being taught.  

Personalized Learning will definitely benefit our students in the long, what about delivering Personalized Assessments?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Effectively Integrate Lesson Content with Educational Technology - SMART's SCLD Course

The best online course that I took through SMART Technologies was the SCLD (SMART Certified Lesson Developer) certification course.  I would recommend this course to any educator who has a SMART Board and wants to integrate educational technology effectively with pedagogy.  In my opinion, this course is as important (or even more so) than hours of technical training.  I was given very little training by my school when I was given my SMART Board.  The only training that I was given was a couple years before that time, so I was basically on my own.  I was not told what to do with my SMART Board or how to use it.  Before purchasing Educational Technology, it is crucial that a school has a vision or objective as to how it should be implemented.  

For the first year, I basically used my SMART Board to show videos and for playing pre-created games which I found on the SMART Exchange and modified for the needs of my class.  After having my SMART Board the first year, I went and pursued face to face training using my own funds. I became a Certified SMART Trainer through SMART in Notebook and Response.  During my second year of using my SMART Board, I increase the use of my SMART Board, but I really was not excited about my content.  I applied and was accepted into the SMART Exemplary Educator (SEE) Program.  My goals of fully integrating my SMART Board with my instruction were there - yet I still felt that I could do a better job with creating high quality, effective lesson activities.  A representative from SMART told me about the SCLD certification and I knew that was exactly what I needed in order to become a better teacher. Having great tools and not knowing how to use them effectively is very frustrating.  I decided to participate in this course and I am very glad that I did.

This past summer, I participated in the SMART Certification Lesson Development coursework.  Although the course was online, my workshops were led by great dynamic trainers.  One thing important to note is that these trainers used to be classroom teachers themselves.  They have the knowledge of the content and pedagogy as well as the technical skills and understand how to put the pieces together in order to make the puzzle fit.  The trainers were also available outside of the session and after the sessions had ended in order to answer my questions about lesson development and content.  They guided me and pushed me to improve my lesson activities not to the point of being adequate, but to the point of being high quality.  The course is also very hands on, which is very important.  The participants must take the knowledge and skills that they have been taught and apply them.  We all know that practice makes perfect.  One of the requirements in this course is that the participants must submit three lesson activities to the SMART Exchange as well as a detailed document on each one explaining how each lesson submitted includes best practices.  A trainer then reviews each lesson submitted as well as its accompanying document.  I now know that when searching the SMART Exchange for lesson activities, search for those submitted by SCLD Candidates as these educators are investing a lot of time into creating high quality lessons.

The SCLD course really changed my mindset on effective Educational Technology Integration.  Of course, a lot more time and work has to be invested when creating engaging, effective SMART Notebook lesson activities.  When I create my content now, I am really enjoying it - and I wish I had more time in order to do so.  I am already seeing the positive impact that my lessons are having on my students.  Because of the SCLD course, my lesson activities are more interactive, engaging, and more personalized.  I wish every educator would take this course as I now have a much better understanding of what the purpose of the SMART Board is for.