Saturday, September 14, 2013

Educators who are Excited to be Learners

Even though we're only a couple of weeks in to the school year, I can't help but reflect on how exciting it is to work with educators who are excited to be learners.  In my role, I frequently work with teachers and students who are excited about developing their collaboration skills and integrating digital literacy skills into their work, but over the past two weeks my experiences with YRDSB Google Camp and my first online M. Ed. course are helping create a positive feedback loop of enthusiasm.

YRDSB Google Camp has been an organically growing event that seems to have just passed its tipping point where enough people are involved and excited, that a small buzz is being generated outside of the initial target audience.  YRDSB Google Camp was envisioned as an opportunity for York Region District School Board teachers who were already using Google Apps for Education or who wanted to get started using Google Apps for Education to get connected and learn with and from each other.  We wanted to help facilitate the development of a community that could inspire and support teachers within the school board and we wanted it to be accessible and affordable.  I'm excited to say that even though registration has been open for less than two weeks, we have over 500 people registered and not just teachers.  We have occasional teachers, principals, superintendents, consultants, educational assistants, administrative assistants and more coming.  A very diverse audience!  Those who are coming are excited to learn, and I'm so thrilled that approximately 40 YRDSB teachers are going to open the doors to their teaching practice and share what's happening in their classrooms.  Sharing your practice in public (much like blogging), can seem risky and intimidating, but I know that these teachers are passionate about the ways that Google Apps allows them to work differently and collaborate with their students to become truly become co-learners and will do a great job helping others.

I've also just finished my first week of my first online M.Ed. course through Nipissing University and it's great to join a new community of educators who have diverse range of experiences and backgrounds.  We spend the first week discussing a journal article documenting a first person experience with online learning and it allowed us the opportunity to open up and share our own feelings regarding online learning.  We're in the process of developing norms for the group, but what I've been really impressed with is how these individuals are open to sharing not just their successes, but also their fears about entering this kind of learning (for many of us it's our first M.Ed. and a return to "academia" after many years).  

Working in these kinds of environments just re-energizes my own passion for teaching, reinforces the need for me to question my own practices and assumptions, and makes me excited to work with educators who never stop learning.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thank Goodness for Digital Dictionaries

Image Source:   greeblie.
Creative Commons 2.0 License
I like to think that I'm a relatively well read individual. My family would likely say that I read a lot. I'm not terribly intimidated by listening to Rex Murphy on the CBC, and I can usually decipher the meaning of unfamiliar words from their context. However, now I'm in a position where I must do some academic reading, and whether I understand a word "mostly" or "exactly" matters.

Instead of purchasing the traditional hard copy version of a text for an online course I'm taking, I purchased it through Google Play. For me, a digital text was the way to go for a variety of reasons. I usually have at least one digital device with me, so if I get some time, I can keep reading. I really like being able to search through a text digitally (as opposed to thumbing through it), and when it comes to taking notes, sticky notes and notes in the margins just won't work for me. First, I'm too slow and sloppy when handwriting (I'm a lefty), and second, I like the flexibility of moving typed notes easily between different places, so I can quickly move my notes into the rough draft of an essay without replicating work that's already been done.

Perhaps the best feature of online texts, is the ability to quickly define an unknown word. On my tablet, I simply press on the word and choose "define" from the pop-up menu. Instantly, the built-in dictionary gives me the definition of the word, it's origins, usage and related words. If that's not good enough, I can copy and paste it into another dictionary or thesaurus app and see what results appear. And, in the case where the built in dictionary or apps don't work, I can always query Google (define:erotetic - it's not what you think).

I know that I could do these things with a hard copy dictionary, but then I'd have to carry it around with me, and even though I understand alphabetical order completely, it's just more effective using the digital tools. I'm not advocating that students don't learn how to use dictionaries, but using voice-to-text to "look it up" just makes life easier.

Here are some of the tools I've used or currently use:
Merriam Webster Dictionary (Website)
Concise Oxford English Dictionary Dictionary and Thesaurus (Website)

Most E-Readers have a built in dictionary that you can access.  In any Google Search box, type "define:" before the word you'd like to look up.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Back to School

It's the first day of school and I'm excited to be continuing in my role as a Digital Literacy Resource Teacher for the York Region District School Board.  I'm thrilled that our school board will be implementing Google Apps for Education for all staff and students (approximately 130 000 users) and I'll have a role in getting students, teachers and administrators engaged in using the tools to improve collaboration, assessment, and feedback.  We're also planning a YRDSB Google Camp for early October where YRDSB teachers and other presenters from around North America will share ideas for using Google Apps.

For the first time in 11 years, I'm heading back to school as a student - in the formal sense of the word - not just as a lifelong learner.  I'm going to be a part time M. Ed. student at Nipissing University and I'm looking forward to engaging discussions and course work as I begin that journey.  I hope that I can use this blog to reflect on my experiences with the M. Ed. work and also make connections to the work I do as a DLRT.

So, with that in mind, it's time to challenge myself to post to this space on a weekly basis.  I've challenged myself before, and failed, but I think it's important to keep trying.  I'm not promising that it will always be inspiring thoughts, and I think it will take some time before I develop a consistent voice and theme for the blog, but, I've placed this work on my weekly to-do list, so hopefully I will.

For all of the other teachers out there who are just getting started with  your students, I hope you have a wonderful year!
Photo Credit:  Creative Commons License by Damian Gadal