ePortfolio

The idea of an ePortfolio is relatively new to me.  I first heard of them during the fall semester, my first semester as a student in the teacher education program.

I see many benefits to creating an ePortfolio for myself.  First of all, it’s a great way to show off my talents to prospective employers in a way that demonstrates not only my teaching proficiency but also my technical savvy.  Additionally, an ePortfolio is a great way to organize all of the work that I’m doing for my classes and keep it accessible.  I wish there was a record like this of some of the work that I did in high school or earlier in college that has long since been lost on the hard drives of defunct computers.  This creates a record of accomplishments, and could hopefully show growth and improvement over time.

In my future classroom, I could see ePortfolios as a way for my students to document their educational journey, specifically projects that they do in my class.  As a high school math teacher, most homework and tests aren’t really something you’d want in a public portfolio (though maybe there could be a private section for these that students and their parents could access), but certainly I hope to incorporate project-based learning in my classes, and those projects could be included in these portfolios.

Here is an example of a student’s ePortfolio that shows off a group project that he completed in Intermediate Algebra.  I see these being used more in college classes, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t introduce them to high school students.

Here is an example of a tutorial for a high school ePortfolio:

Social Media In Education

I was a little slow to jump onto the social media bandwagon.  I participated in the early days of AOL and AIM, back when I was in high school and my first years of college in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but I took a break from social media for a while after that.  I was a late-comer to Facebook and still don’t have Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.  More recently, I’ve been finding myself using social media more and more, and the main reason behind that is parenthood.

Having a baby is an amazing event, but it can also be very isolating, especially in the early days and when your nearby friends don’t yet have children.  During pregnancy, I commiserated with other women due in the same month as me on a BabyCenter birth month forum as we experienced the ups and downs and hormones together.  Various Facebook groups have helped me connect to other moms and parents and helped me find information on things like the best way to wash our cloth diapers and babywearing while also helping me feel less alone in the struggle to keep up with my baby, house, husband, work, and school.  On days when everything is crazy and none of my real-life friends are available, I always have a supportive online community to fall back on.

I don’t think social media is always so constructive.  There are certainly plenty of parts of social media that are negative.  Finding the pieces that enrich rather than detract is the key, not only in personal life but also in education.

Social media is beginning to have a greater impact on education.  Other than the obvious “kids are spending too much time on Facebook and twitter and it’s taking away from study time and making them illiterate” effect that we so commonly hear about, sites like http://openstudy.com/ are popping up, with forums for homework help in all different subjects.  On OpenStudy, you can ask and answer homework questions about any subject.  It’s like a giant study hall.  Students get medals and trophies for answering questions, and can follow other students by becoming fans.  I think this can be a great resource if truly used to help learn, and not just to have someone else do your homework for you.  I also think that the act of explaining how to do problems or questions is a great way to gain a better understanding of a subject.  I know that for myself, tutoring math has really helped me gain a better understanding of many concepts.

I think the bottom line is that social media is not going away, and therefore we need to embrace it and use it for beneficial purposes.  This article by Todd Finley examines not only the futility of resisting social media, but also how to avoid some pitfalls that teachers are prone to.

I think social media has simultaneously made our culture more and less connected.  We can easily connect to people all over the world, but often ignore the person sitting on the other side of the couch in favor of our phone.  I think as an individual, one has to decide where their personal line is drawn – when is it time to put down the device and connect to the present place and moment?

For me, it’s when I hear, “Mama, mama” being called out and make the decision that my daughter is more worthy of my attention than any amount of chat groups and internet acquaintances.

Wikis

What more appropriate place to look for information on wikis than the “Wiki” article on Wikipedia? Wikipedia is probably the best known example of a wiki, but is only one example of what a wiki can do.

Wikis, in the form of Wikipedia, have already affected the classroom.  Students often use Wikipedia as a quick way to get information about a subject.  This is my favorite way to use Wikipedia – as a jumping off point.  While it doesn’t provide cite-able information, it is a great way to figure out what the subject encompasses and what to do more research on.

Outside of Wikipedia, wikis can be used as a powerful tool for collaboration.  As a math teacher, I can see using a wiki for a geometry class, where throughout the year, students add entries for theorems they are learning in order to build a comprehensive resource.  The wonderful thing about a wiki, especially in a classroom context, is that the students can work off of and correct each other, making the wiki more powerful.  I think that this could be a great addition to almost any class.  In a literature class, a wiki of character descriptions.  In a chemistry class, a wiki of chemical elements and their properties.  The possibilities are endless.  And student-generated content is much more meaningful than a study guide provided by a teacher.

I was in college when Wikipedia was really beginning to take root, and I’m glad to see that we’ve moved from just yelling at students that Wikipedia is not a legitimate research source to finding ways to incorporate such valuable technology into our classrooms.

Child Driven Education

If you’ve never heard of Sugata Mitra and his “hole in the wall” learning experiments, you should take a few moments to listen to his fascinating TED talks:

I first heard about Mitra in an education course on diversity.  We watched one of these videos, and I think everyone in the class was amazed by the results Mitra had gotten by leaving kids alone with computers and seeing what they could do.  Mitra argues that teaching, and perhaps knowledge, is becoming irrelevant.  Children will teach themselves, given technological resources.  As outlandish as this first seems, he shows cases over and over of children doing just that.

So, are teachers irrelevant?  And if so, what the heck am I doing in school getting my teaching credential?

I think the answer comes towards the end of the second video.  Children can teach themselves amazing amounts of information.  But they need someone to ask the big questions — to give them a purpose.  While they may sometimes come up with the questions themselves, a gentle push in the right direction will speed up the learning process.  And if there is something specific they need to learn (for whatever greater purpose), this nudge will allow them to do it.

I also question whether completely child-driven learning can teach the fundamentals as effectively as a teacher – how about reading?  Can a child learn to read solely by working cooperatively with other students on a computer?  I feel like so much of what a computer can teach us is driven by literacy.  Without having the tools of written language, computers are much less useful.  That doesn’t mean that this idea of child driven learning can’t be used to cement concepts introduced by teachers.  Certainly this method seems to be a good tool for reinforcement.  Especially in today’s American society, I’m just not convinced that it can be effective as the only way to teach and learn.

This article asks the question of whether student-driven learning can happen under the common core.  In short, the answer is only if assessment systems (such as testing) adjust to accommodate this different style of teaching.