Student thoughts on technology in the classroom

I just read a post on the TeachPaperless blog that I thought was very interesting. The author posted opinions from students on the use of technology in the classroom. I thought this was a great idea so I polled one of my classes on their thoughts. Here is what they had to say:

Student 1 - I like doing internet research and creating PowerPoints for assignments. I also like the online labs we do. I really like the class web site because it has links to help sites and I can always check it to see what the homework is or what I missed.

Student 2 - I like working on the computers but I wish we could do more real labs. The computer labs are ok, but real labs would be better. I know its because of money, but I think they should find the money to get us the lab equipment.

Student 3 - I like doing the practice work on the computer because it gives me a grade right away and it also has a help feature that will help me through the problems.

Student 4 - I love having the extra credit work to do on line. It is so cool. I go to the site, do the problems, and the answers get emailed to my teacher for grading. I was only doing it for extra credit, but I found that it helps me study too.

Student 5 - I would rather write 10 pages on a computer than 2 by hand. I also like using the graphing programs to create graphs instead of doing them on paper.

Overall, the students were very positive about using technology in class to do work. This quick, informal poll (just write down your thoughts on a piece of paper) has shown me that I should continue to use technology in class and add some more technology to the classes also.

Professional Development ideas

Professional development is constantly listed as a major factor in improving teaching and learning. Effective professional development is not always delivered and funds are sometimes wasted. A survey by Education Week shows that 77% of respondents feel that their schools and districts do not use professional development funds effectively. In today's financial crisis, this is a major issue. So, how do you deliver effective professional development with less funding? How do we make sure that professional development is timely, interesting, and relevant?

The first option to save money is to use in-house "experts". There is no need to go to expensive outside contractors and consultants when you probably have staff with a wealth of knowledge and expertise in your own building. Look for staff who have extra experience or knowledge in technology, curriculum development, tips and tricks, and other ideas. Have them run professional development sessions. In lieu of payment, offer them double CEU credits or other incentives that are free or low cost. Talk to local businesses about donating gift cards or items to your school and use those, or buy them at a discount. Even if you pay them contractual rates for this kind of thing, it will still be much less expensive than bringing in an outside person.

Another idea is to utilize some of the free professional development available on line. Many conferences have virtual conferences that faculty and staff can attend for free on line. Some colleges and professional development providers offer sessions online for free or reduced fees. You can also give staff a list of web sites that go over the material you want them to gain experience in and then give them time to review the sites.

A great resource that I use is the Teacher Professional Development Sourcebook, from the publisher of Education Week. It is available for free in print twice a year, and also available online. They have great ideas, articles, tips, and resources for professional development. 

Some other resources online include:

Connected University - over 60 courses available on the site, including technology integration, educational leadership, and curriculum. A yearly fee provides access to all classes.

Edutopia - These free teaching modules, developed by education faculty, can be used for workshops and meetings.

iSafe - free training for educators in Internet safety.

JASON - Jason, part of the National Geographic Society, has online professional development on its science curricula.

Microsoft Office Online - free, self-paced training courses for Office 2003 and 2007.

PBS Teacherline - online professional development

Look for educational websites and magazines that offer free web casts. Use these web casts, either live or archived, as a way to present information to your staff.

This is just a small list of professional development resources available. Have your professional development committee do some Internet searches, check out the Teacher Sourcebook, and see what you can find to improve your professional development offerings without increasing your budget.

When planning Professional Development, make sure you involve a group of teachers in the planning. Have some veteran teachers, mid-career, and newbies in the group to make sure your professional development plans address all of their needs. Work on a small number of topics each year instead of dropping 10 different topics on the teachers with no time to implement or get follow up.  Zero in on initiatives that are already in place and help teachers implement them in their classroom.  Don't try to bring in every new idea or initiative as this will overwhelm your staff and let to none of it getting implemented. Get feedback from the faculty and staff on what kinds of training they need and want. Use a survey, or other feedback device to get their needs and wants to use when planning the years training. If teachers are involved in the planning and decisions, you will get more buy-in during the training.

Make sure that every professional development session ends with practical tips on how to implement the idea, topic, or initiative in the classroom. Teachers need to know why this is a good thing to do and how to use it in their classroom. Concrete, specific examples are a must.

When teachers attend off-site training, have them come back and present what they learned to the rest of the staff. Set up a blog where these teachers can post their notes and observations for others to see. Post links to the training provider's web site for reference. Teachers can even post to the blog while they are at the event. 

Remember that one size does not fit all. Tailor some professional development by subject area or grade. This will lead to more concrete examples of how to use the training in the classroom. Have people from these areas do the planning also. 

Integrate professional development with your normal staff meetings. Have one great idea or tool or tip presented at the end of the meeting. If your meeting agenda is short, have a short professional development session during the meeting too. It's amazing how much can be accomplished in 20 minutes. 

Embed professional development in the daily schedule. Emails of tips, ideas, and resources should be sent out to the staff. Have other teachers and staff available to help teachers implement what they've learned. Set up a staff blog for teachers to contribute to. 

Many teachers will attend training events that are not necessarily run by official CEU providers. Come up with a way to have that training count towards their professional development requirements. Many times, this type of training is free, but teachers are hesitant to go to it because it will not count.

Some professional development sessions can also be reserved for collaboration time. Give teachers time to meet and work in groups to share ideas, tips, struggles, and triumphs. Also give them time to plan how to implement what they've learned in professional development sessions into their classroom. If teachers are not given this planning time, they may never use what they have learned.

Another idea I've seen recently is to have some students attend some of the professional development sessions and use these students as assistants to help implement some of the new ideas. These students can also give feedback on any ideas they have or any challenges that they may see in using that new idea in class. 

Technology is a big part of education now. Teachers need to know how to use technology to improve teaching and learning and professional development must address this. In Connecticut, teachers are required to attend training in educational technology. Have teachers who already use technology teach other faculty about it. Send one or two teachers to train-the-trainer sessions so that they teach the rest of the staff. Have a technology open support session where technology savvy teachers, educational technology specialists, and IT staff are on hand to answer any and all questions teachers have or help them with new technologies that they have been working with.

Remember, the goal is to give teachers interesting, timely, relevant professional development that can help them improve the teaching and learning in their classroom. It should be easy to implement, have specific examples of how to implement, and have support and follow up resources available to the faculty. Make professional development something that the teachers look forward to and want to attend and make sure that they have time to plan out their implementation. 

Sources of research: Teacher Magazine,,

What colleges and employers are looking for in graduates

I just read some research and articles about what colleges and employers are looking for in graduates. Content knowledge was 5th or 6th on the list. They both want to see well-rounded students, with a variety of skills.

They both want students who have:
1) academic achievement
2) work experience and internships
3) clubs and organization membership that shows leadership
4) community service

The reports all say the same thing about other skills colleges want students to have:
1) communications - personal and electronic
2) teamwork skills
3) problem solving skills
4) critical thinking skills

Employers have also said that they expect students to have a basic knowledge of internet research, computer operating system use, and office productivity software.

This means high schools and colleges have to teach our students all of these qualities and skills as part of our curriculum.

One way we can do this is through using technology in the classroom, project based learning with hands on projects, cooperative learning where students work in teams and help themselves.

We can also motivate our students by letting them know what colleges and employers are looking for and by helping them understand what they are learning, and WHY they are learning it.

Text messaging and more for hearing impaired students

In the past, deaf people couldn't communicate over distances without special phone setups. Then email came and made communicating easier. Now text messaging (with photos too) makes it very easy. What about for our students?

I would bet that a majority of your students have cell phones with text messaging capabilities. If they have a good plan, the text messages don't cost them a fortune. We could then use text messages to get them information. I've had hearing impaired students, and I have tried different techniques to help them out. With some of the new technologies out now, it will be easier the next time I have a student with hearing issues.

I can send them a text message of the lesson plan so that they can read along, and I can record the class and post it as a pod cast for them to download and listen to later. I can also print out a lesson presentation for them. If they have smartphone, I can send them a pdf version of the lesson presentation and materials and they can just read them on their phone.

Technology has made communications easier and this leads to easier accommodations for the hearing impaired.

Students' Education Proclamation

Converge Magazine, along with Project Tomorrow, came up with this Students' Education Proclamation. 

I think it is a great tool to use as guidance for creating the new face of education. Students need these things in order to be successful. They don't need to spend hours and hours taking standardized tests that really don't test anything useful.
In today's world, anyone can find any information in an instant. What is needed is the ability to analyze that information for reliability and accuracy, and then apply it to something else. Students need to be able to communicate, collaborate, do research, analyze and synthesize information, and solve problems.

Let's use this proclamation as a way to change education to make our students more prepared for the world.

Using the Web to get Organized

The World Wide Web is such a great thing. I think everyone agrees that the internet has changed our world. A variety of tools out there allow you to use the Web to get yourself and your life organized. The other nice thing is that you only need access to the internet to do this. Any web-enabled cell phone, smart phone, or computer gets you access to these free resources.  

One of my favorites is Google. All of these are available in mobile mode so that I can access them from my smart phone. I use Google Reader to keep up on my RSS feeds, Gmail to check email and my task list, Google Notebook and Docs to create and read notes and documents, Google Calendar and Google search. These applications allow me to stay organized, informed and in contact with people.  

I also use Evernote, which is a great, free resource to take notes. What I really like is the ability to clip web sites to the notebook on Evernote. It is available as a desktop version, web version, and mobile version. The desktop version syncs with the online version so that you always have your notes with you. A very unique feature it has is the ability to search for text in a photo, which is very useful for me when I take a picture of a memo with my smart phone camera.  

If you have some kind of web based email, it may have a calendar, tasks, and notes section to use. Microsoft Outlook Web access does, as does Google Mail and Yahoo mail.  

Some other great online organizational services include: Remember the Milk,,, Jott, and Agenda at Once.

There are a lot of great resources and systems available. Check each one out and see which fits your needs and style the best. Look at ease of use, backup features, mobile access, and cost. Then choose one and get organized.

Help - that file is in the wrong format!

Students, teachers, and schools don't always have the same software to use for work. When this happens, there is sometimes an issue with compatability and opening the file on another computer. For example, a student emailed a paper to her teacher. The student used Microsoft Works to create the file. The file extension is .wps for this type of file. The teacher was unable to open the file because her computer did not have Microsoft Works. So, what do you do?

When you try to open a file with an extension your computer doesn't recognize, it will usually give you an error message and a window with a choice to either let the computer search for software to open the file, or let you pick the software. I always pick the software. How do I know which software to pick? I use the software that I have that I would use to create that type of file. If it is a document, I will try to open it using Microsoft Word. If it is a spreadsheet, Excel, and so on. If I have no idea, I try using Word first. Once the file is opened and you can view it, you can "Save As" the file to a format that you use.

In this case, I used Word to open the Works file, and then saved it as a Word document and gave it back to the teacher. She can now read and comment on the paper using Word.

If you try this and it still doesn't work, try letting the computer search for a program to open it. If that doesn't work, look at the file extension (the three letters after the . ) and do an online search for that extension. You can then see what software was used to create the file and search for tips on how to convert it for your own use.

Internet Explorer 8 is out

I just installed Internet Explorer 8 and so far, so good. It is definitely faster than IE7. I also like that IE7pro works fine with it and that each tab is it's own instance. This means that if one tab locks up, the whole IE8 instance doesn't lock up.

It is rendering pages accurately and quickly and so far I like the way it works. I'll let you know how it goes after a week or so as I find out more about what it can do.

Fitting in Technology

There is a great article on the TeachPaperless blog about not trying to "fit in" technology into your curriculum, but to use technology to enhance or improve your curriculum. It is a great article that will help teachers who have some questions about integrating technology into their classroom.

Free Virtual Educational Technology Conference.

This link is for a virtual (online) educational technology conference on April 23rd. That is a half day for us for report card conferences. It is free, but you must register at the site below. You can particpate in all, or part of the conference and conference materials will be available for 3 months afterward for download. Check it out!

Remember Everything

I found out about Evernote a few months ago, but I hadn't started using it until this week. I wish I had started earlier.

Evernote is free (there is a premium version with more functionality that is fee based) and allows you to capture notes in a variety of formats and then access it from anywhere via the web or a mobile application.

What's really cool about it is that it allows you to take a picture of something, upload it to Evernote, and it can search text in the photo. I love this because there are times when I don't have the time, or ambition, to copy something down, so I'll take a photo of it with my smart phone. Then I can send it to Evernote and search the text of the memo in the photo.

You can also enter notes manually and import notes from other applications. There is a desktop version for Windows and Mac, a mobile web version to use from any web enabled device, an iPhone application, and a Windows Mobile application. The desktop version syncs with the web version so that you can access your data anywhere you can access the internet.

It is a really great application. Check it out at

PC to TV

Don't have an LCD projector in your classroom? Have access to a TV with a pretty large screen, even an old one? Then you are all set.

There are devices available that will enable you to show what's on your computer on a TV. You need a PC to TV VGA converter. You plug in your PC video output and audio output into the device and then the other cables get hooked up to your TV. This enables your whole class to see what's on your computer.

I helped one teacher her set that up in her room. She had a very old TV, but we were able to do it. Now she doesn't have to try to sign out a multimedia projector, she just uses the old TV.

Saves money and recycles an old TV.

The converter boxes range in price from around $40 to $100. Wal-mart, Target, Best Buy, Tiger Direct, all carry a version of them.

Smartphone Camera

I keep finding more uses for my smartphone camera. Today I took a picture of a magazine article so that I could read it later, took a picture of a memo on the wall so I wouldn't have to copy down the info, and even took a picture of a website on a computer screen, again so I wouldn't have to write it down.

I then use an application called "BugMe" for Palm OS that takes a screen shot, in this case of the picture, and allows me to annotate it and even set a reminder alarm.

You can do much of this with any camera phone or smartphone. Put that camera to good use.

Smartphones - what a great invention!

I love my smart phone. I have a Palm Centro, running Garnet (Palm) OS and on Verizon's network. It is the single most useful technology gadget I have.

First, it is a phone and it works well. What I like most is that as I update my contacts on Palm Desktop, it sync's to my phone. That makes editing, and backing up information, very easy. In fact, all of the PIM (Personal Information Management) data is backed up on my computer and is editable through the Palm Desktop software.

This leads into the next part of the device that I love - the PIM. The Calendar and Task lists keep me organized. You are able to set reminder timers for both of these, which comes in very handy. The other PIM function I love is the Memo's function. This is basically a very simple text editor that allows you to create individual memos and categorize them. I have over 1600 memo's that I use for reference notes, lesson plans, financial information, account information, medical records, and more. You can even make them private and secured with a password.

Some other things I use my smartphone for include web surfing, email, test messaging, and viewing and editing Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. I can also view pdf files. I have a microSD card that has all of my files from school. I use Microsoft Hot Sync and software on the phone to sync the files on my classroom computer, with the smartphone, and then my home computer. This makes my life easy by allowing me access to the files at any time, without having to have them hosted on a web site.

The other feature that I use alot now is the camera. I take pictures of magazine articles, papers, white board notes. and other things as reminders, and a way of keeping a permanent electronic record of things. The resolution is pretty good, so it works well. There are also some online services that will take the picture you to and they can convert it to text.

The phone also has Goggle maps so that I don't get lost, an MP3 player to listen to my music, games, reference information, and even a video player that allows me to load DVD movies onto the phone to watch. The small screen is actually pretty nice to watch on, and this is a nice way to pass the time when working as a paramedic and sitting at post in an ambulance.

Today's smartphones have a lot of power, features, and applications and are extremely useful devices. I'm not sure how I managed in the past without one.

I have a Palm Centro, but most other smartphones have similar features and applications. Some run on multiple networks, like Blackberry and Palm, and others are only on a certain network, like Apple. Before you purchase one, do some research and see which one that seems to work best for you.

Disclosure - While I do own stock in Palm (not a lot though), I am not trying to sell this to anyone. I tell people that a smartphone is a very personal thing and their own personal preference is what should lead them to which smartphone to purchase. Apple's iPhone, Palm, and Blackberry's are the most popular and all of them are very useful. I found Palm's to be the best fit for me and what I do. People who need a really outstanding email system usually go for Blackberry, and people who are looking to do more multi-media tasks look at the iPhone.

To each his own.

Acrobat Reader Tip

If you are like me, you find a lot of great resources on line for your classes. Many of these are in .pdf formats and you usually use Acrobat Reader (free from to read the file.

But, what happens if you just want to use a part of the file? You still need to give credit to the source, but you may just want to use a little part of the file. Graphics or text can be easily copied and pasted into another document or even a PowerPoint presentation using the Snapshot tool in Acrobat Reader.

Go to "Tools" at the top of the window, then "Customize toolbars" and then scroll way down to "Select and Zoom Toolbar." Check the box in front of the "Snapshot tool". It's icon is a camera.

This icon will now appear on your toolbar at the top of Acrobat Reader.

If you want to copy a part of the .pdf file, simply click on the Snapshot tool icon, select what you want to copy using the mouse, and the highlighted box will be copied to the Windows clipboard. Then simply go to the file or document you want to place this in, place the cursor in the spot to insert the image, and "Paste" it. The selected item from the .pdf file will now be in your other document.

This is a quick and easy way to use part of a .pdf file in another file.

Google in Education

I love Google. The free products they have are great resources for me as a person and an educator.

I use Google Mail for email, iGoogle for organizing my selft, Google Calendar, Google Notebook, Google Apps, and Blogger (which is where this blog is hosted.)

iGoogle is my favorite application. Think of it as your own personal start page on the internet. I have mine set up with my bookmarks, Gmail inbox, Google Translate,, Top Stories, Google Calendar, My Listy (task list), Google Reader, Google Notebook (lesson plans), Stock quote tracking, weather, and a Blogger gadget for posting to my blog. It is the one website that I open all the time to keep my self organized and informed.

I also use Google Apps to create, edit, and store word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Since everything is hosted in the "cloud" (ie. on the Web), I have access to these items from any computer that has internet access. It doesn't matter if it is Windows, Apple, or Linux.

I have been so impressed with Google and have used it so much that I am sharing these things, along with some others such as Google Scholar, Picasa, and Sketchup, with other teachers in a professional development session in April.

Free, well designed, and useful. What more can you ask for?

Flexibility as a teacher

I have found that being a teacher requires a lot of flexibility, creativity, and the ability to change plans at the drop of a hat. Snow days, snow delays, assemblies, testing programs, computer crashes, internet failures and a host of other things can leave you with a well thought out lesson plan that you can't use any more. I always tell student teachers and new teachers that they have to be able to adapt to these changes quickly and I've tried to give them some practical advice about it. I've also found that technology can be a great thing to have as a backup.

For example, one day the network connection in our section of the building went down (server crashed.) This meant that we could not access our files on the network drive, or even log into a computer. I was planning on using a PowerPoint presentation in class that I had to change that. So, since I have a Palm Centro with Documents to Go on it, I simply called up the PowerPoint file on my Centro, grabbed a marker, and wrote the notes on the whiteboard for the students. Later, I posted the original file to my website so that the students could look at the pictures I had on the file. I tell new teachers to always print out a set of handouts for their PowerPoint presentations so that they can have a backup plan if their computer or projector fails.

Another good backup is for those days where you find out over half of your class will be missing because of an activity or assembly. I don't want to move ahead because too many students will be left behind, so I want to do something educational and about the topic at hand that they can catch up with on their own. The school district has a subscription to Discovery Streaming. On there are thousands of great educational videos, including Discovery TV shows, and lesson plans to go with them. I'll show the students that are in class the video and do an activity with them, and then post the video link on the class website and have the absentee students watch it at home on their own with a different activity to do.

As a teacher, you always have to have a backup plan and be ready to change your plans at any time.

Some resources for teachers

I want to share some resources I have with other teachers. Instead of re-listing them all here, I am just going to show you where they are on my website.

Go to and then go to "Useful Links". There are three sections for teachers - "Software Tutorials", "Educational Technology Resources", and "Teacher Resources". These sections have a lot of great links for teachers including how to use software, how to use technology in your classroom, and many other free resources for teachers. I have used or visited all of the web sites and find them very useful.

Also on my site is a section called "File Cabinet-Downloads". I have many files for teachers here under "Integrating Technology" and "Teacher Resources". The "Integrating Technology" section has handouts for all of the technology CEU's that I do for the district, as well as some other useful files. The "Teacher Resources" section has some resources for new teachers, as well as lists of resources from NASA and other teacher resources.

I have some other pages on the site for teachers, including a page about using Palm OS devices as a teacher, integrating technology in the classroom and a page with information for new teachers.

I welcome any feedback anyone has about the site, it's contents, and the resources that are listed there.