Saturday, April 26, 2014

Open Access Textbooks

I am a college student. I am also broke. The two descriptors seem to be synonymous.

Besides tuition and room and board costs, one of my biggest expenditures in college so far has been textbooks. This semester I spent around $250 on textbooks alone; below is an image of most of the books I was required to purchase for this semester. So when I stumbled upon a CNN article about open access textbooks (also called open-source textbooks), I was intrigued. (You can read this article by clicking here.)

Image created and uploaded by me, Anna Kron

Open access textbooks are free digital textbooks that can be viewed through the Internet. They are also often licensed to allow professors to legally access and reformat copies of the book to fit the needs of their particular classes.

Many advantages to open access textbooks came to mind as I read this article. First and foremost, open access textbooks are free, allowing anyone to read and interact with them. Another advantage is their convenience. By using an open access textbook, not only do you avoid carrying around a heavy book, you can also read it anywhere on the go: in between classes, on the bus, or even in line at the grocery store. Also, open access textbooks can be easily edited by professors to include the most up-to-date information and correct mistakes, whereas new editions of printed textbooks must be created each year to remedy these problems. With open access textbooks, clarification and more information are readily available; you can't look up words within a printed textbook simply by highlighting them with your finger as you can with some open access textbooks. Lastly, open access textbooks provide for professional collaboration: professors from around the globe can see what other professors within their field are utilizing for their classes, and they can build upon each other to provide the students with the best information possible.

I personally cannot see the disadvantage of open access textbooks. I think they level the playing field a bit for students, whether they are in college or even earlier grade levels. The Internet is already a vast source of information; the problem is that not all of the information is correct, the sheer amount of it may be overwhelming, and it is littered with sites that are inappropriate for young eyes. An online textbook gathers all of the information in one place and has been looked over by professors to make sure the information needed for the class is within the book and accurate. If the Internet is already a free source, why not make it easier for students to access what they need?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poker Chips of Self-Esteem

Photo used with permission by Z-UO on deviantART

Today I watched a fantastic video featuring Richard Lavoie, an educator, motivational speaker, and author. I have embedded the video for your viewing pleasure. 

In this video, Lavoie uses poker chips to explain children's self-esteem. Self-esteem is measured in poker chips. If you have a lot of self-esteem, you have a lot of poker chips. When good things happen to you, you gain poker chips, and vice versa. (For an online summation of Lavoie's main points, click here.)

Lavoie is an advocate for special needs and learning disabled children, so his message is mostly geared toward parents with learning disabled children and educators that battle with those disabilities in their classrooms. However, I think his main message can be applied to all situations in which adults interact with children: make sure the kid has more poker chips at the end of the day than he did when the day started.

In my classroom, I need to make sure I am not the one taking poker chips away from the children. I will stand up for the students when others bring them down. I will find at least one thing that each of my students is good at doing, and give him or her the opportunities to display this skill. I need to praise my students for their good behavior, and stimulate growth in confidence and self-esteem.

I think that, in my future classroom, technology can play a major role in satisfying these goals. As Wes Rogers wrote in his article, Technology in the Classroom, "As a motivational tool, technology positively impacts student attitudes toward learning, self-confidence, and self-esteem." Technology opens pathways for student learning that we never could have imagined twenty years ago. I hope that the learning environment I establish in my classroom is conducive to the development and showcasing of novel technology skills. I want my curriculum to uphold this ideal, and for students to feel comfortable exploring new technology. Knowledge about technology is something I can praise students for or assist them with if they need help. I want my students to learn how to use technology in the classroom so that they can use it on the job in the future. Developing these skills and praising the students for their hard work is a self-esteem boost (putting poker chips in the basket) and will eventually lead to success down the road.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Divergent Thinking

In one of my classes, Exploring Teaching, we have been discussing trends in education. A few weeks ago we watched a YouTube video, RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms, that opened my eyes to various ways people are challenging our education system. Ken Robinson, an author, speaker, and international advisor on education, talks about divergent thinking in the clip of the video I have embedded below:

As Ken Robinson elaborates, divergent thinking is a process of thought in which one explores many possible solutions to a problem. In divergent thinking, there isn't necessarily a correct or best answer; it is open-ended and aimed at generating novel ideas. It is often used in contrast to convergent thinking. (For more on divergent versus convergent thinking, follow this link to an article on Education Portal.)

Of course, after discussing the benefits of divergent thinking in the classroom, I had to test my own abilities. If you'd like to try divergent thinking for yourself, try the Incomplete Figure test, a drawing challenge in which you're given a shape and then asked to complete the image. I have created some incomplete figures for you and included them below:

Images created and uploaded by me, Anna Kron.

(If you'd like to see some other incomplete figures and a few completed images, click here.)

These are easy ways for us to test and practice our divergent thinking skills. But how do we ensure that children don't lose these skills as they grow older, or as Ken Robinson asserts, as they become more educated? How can I, as a teacher, challenge my students to use divergent thinking in my future classroom, so that their abilities DON'T deteriorate over time? 

We must start changing the ways we assess children. We can pose questions that can be interpreted in multiple ways and learn to value several answers to one problem. We must allow students to collaborate, to work together to come up with a multitude of solutions, and THEN permit them to choose which solution they think is best and explain why. 

I think technology plays a major role in this process. Technology is a tool that allows us to illustrate our thinking in a number of ways. If the students can imagine the solution, they must have the tools necessary to demonstrate their thoughts to others. For this reason, it is important that educators stay current with the latest technology and utilize it in our classrooms. We must provide our students with the gadgets necessary to make their ideas come to life. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Technology is a Tool

In my Educational Technology and Design class at UNI, we are often reminded that we need to adapt our teaching styles in order to meet the needs of our future students. Right now we are welcoming the alpha generation into the world, a generation that is predicted to be selfish, impatient, and incredibly tech-savvy. For those of us who grew up reading textbooks and completing an endless amount of worksheets, the thought is daunting: instead of these familiar teaching methods, we will be educating this new generation completely differently. We will need to incorporate technology in our classrooms, and in order to do this, we MUST be able to utilize the technology in useful ways. Gone are the days when you learn how to type, how to search the Internet, and how to create a presentation in the classroom. Instead, our students will already know these basic skills (and we, their teachers, need to know them too). Educators need to decide what we want students to do with technology, as the image below reiterates.
Image used with permission from flikr by William M Ferriter
The bottom sentence in the image sums it up quite nicely, "Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome." I think sometimes teachers get caught up in the idea of using technology, but don't consider exactly why they are having the students use it. Teachers should not assign projects just so the students have to use PowerPoint or Edmodo. We should be utilizing technology as a way to enhance student learning.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Let Me Introduce Myself

Hello readers!

I am going to be completely honest with you: I have been having some trouble writing this post. The first post on any blog is incredibly important because it sets the tone for the entire blog. If you don't know and trust me as the writer, how can I expect you to keep reading? Therefore, before I get into any controversial topics in education, I thought I would take some time to introduce myself.

My name is Anna Kron and I am currently a freshman elementary education student at the University of Northern Iowa. (If you are thinking about becoming a teacher, I recommend taking a visit to UNI. It has a great education program and I am enjoying my time here!) In the summer I work at a daycare that accommodates special needs and developmentally normal children alike; I love my job and am looking forward to being back for the summer. I have three younger siblings and would consider myself to be their second mom. In my spare time I love to work out, read books, spend time with my friends and family, and watch Disney movies (The Little Mermaid is my favorite).

I told you I would be honest, so I should admit that the reason I am starting this blog is for an assignment in my Educational Technology and Design class. However, I think using a blog is a great way to publish your ideas online and support your professional development as a teacher. I hope that, by exploring topics in education for this class and in the future, I become more educated on the issues surrounding my occupation and support my personal aspiration of being a lifelong learner.

Last week, my field experience coordinator said, "Anna, I enjoy our conversations; you make me think." I hope that, by reading this blog, you are introduced to some viewpoints on topics in education  that make you think. I encourage you to spark a discussion by posting a comment; I enjoy thought-provoking conversations, even if we don't agree on the topic at hand.

Thank you for reading. I hope to post something about technology soon!