Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The basics

There's a new website everyday that will change your life, and that's great, but I think we're forgetting about the basics.
If you don't know how to use the tab key correctly to line up data in a table, you're always going to struggle. 
I teach my students how to create their heading using flush left alignment and a flush right tab. If you don't know what I'm talking about, keep moving. This is not for you.
I'm a firm believer in everyone knowing how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It's this generation's looseleaf. If you can't use these programs easily, you will never be able to focus on your thoughts, you will always spend too much time trying to figure out how to present your thoughts.
While these tools have gotten infinitely easier to use, they still need some understanding. I try to make the lessons interesting-we bullet their favorite foods, use page numbers, and find and replace words through a long document. Not glamorous, but essential, and they will thank me someday when they're up at midnight trying to finish their term paper.
Using these programs should be effortless for our students because they will need to use them for the rest of their lives. Struggling to learn a musical instrument is necessary if you ever want it to sound like music. Our students need to learn how to play these programs well.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'm just trying to keep up.

Sometimes it's hard to be a technology teacher.
Students don't know more about math than the math teacher. They certainly don't know more about science or history. That's not the case with technology. In some cases, they know more than us and we are assigned to teach them something.
What we mostly do is find out where they are, and try to keep up. We think we're so groovy because we're on Facebook. Well guess what? If you haven't noticed, they're not even on there anymore. They've moved onto Instagram and Snapchat. By the time we join those sites, they will leave us in the dust.
What we can do is address the bigger picture. Yes, they are all over the internet, but doing what? What kind of content are they adding? What type of footprint are they leaving behind? We need to use social media guidelines to enlighten them on future issues they aren't thinking about now.
What I think is being ignored is mastering basic office skills, even adults don't know how to set up tabs, and forget about editing a master slide.
Mostly we learn together, finding new things to explore everyday. I am constantly trying to keep my curriculum interesting and relevant, and teach them something they don't know already. That becomes more of a challenge everyday because I don't know it yet either.
Our job may be more fun but our curriculum has to change constantly, and keeping up is hard work.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

You have teaching methods, but what are your learning methods?

I graduated from art school a long time ago, so at one point I did know how to paint. I hadn't painted in quite a while though, so when I went to Paintnite and picked up a brush after such a long time, it stirred something in me. I want to paint again, but how do I go about it?
I bought a few supplies and got a bunch of books out of the library, but what really helped me was watching a few YouTube videos of painting techniques. It made me think about learning methods. I could have read about painting, I could look at other people's paintings, or even talked to other painters, but I found watching someone paint, and copy the process was the most effective.
It got me to thinking about my learning, and how best I acquire skills. I searched through multiple resources and tried each one. I took something from each, but I found the most effective for me and went with it.
Shouldn't students have the same freedom? Test out different methods and find the most effective? With multiple intelligences, you could go with your usual methods, but they might not always be best for every application.
This idea also worried me because it could someday make teachers obsolete. I only had one person in front of me teaching me to paint for a few sessions. Most of my learning was spent with books and online. Kids are already searching YouTube for help with their math homework, and Khan academy is covering more material everyday. I may not have a job soon. I should go work on my resume. Or maybe my paintings?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Making a list, checking it twice...

Just this week I found the file where I have all the addresses for my Christmas cards. I pull up this file every year and print it out on labels to remove yet another human element from my holiday wishes.
What makes me stop and think as I go over the names and addresses is all that has changed in one year. Who I sent a card to last year who's no longer with us. The address of a Mr. & Mrs. who no longer are married. It makes me sad to think of all that is different this year. These things usually happen one a time so they don't pile up, but going over the addresses once a year really brings it home in a dark way.
It certainly doesn't put me in a Christmas spirit. Oh well.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Don't do it Microsoft!

Microsoft just announced that it will discontinue clip art in it's products and I'm in mourning. Those trusty graphics have always been a simple and lovely way to brighten up any page, slide, or spreadsheet. Now you will be sent to Bing to search online for graphics. I have three big problems with this.

  1. When little people are using these programs at first, having a simple way to insert art is not as overwhelming as searching online for appropriate artwork. Young children need some guidelines, and releasing them into the big bad internet to find artwork will create a time-wasting experience for them.
  2. You're encouraging copyright infringement. Students will not concern themselves with where they got the artwork, and that's not the way to teach responsible digital citizenship. 
  3. When your internet is down, you're out of luck. My students don't always have internet access, through no fault of their own. Providing a feature and then taking it away is not cool-period.

Technology develops by providing more features, not less. I have to go now, I need to start hoarding all the clipart before it disappears forever.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I'm a serif kind of gal.

I love typefaces. I fell in love with them during my graphic design classes in art school. I think that some of them are so beautiful, they give the words they display more meaning. They are a subtle way to add a level of expression to the words they spell out. "I love you" written in Times Roman is a much different expression than when it's written in Edwardian Script.

I have my favorites, of course, as everyone does. The delicate shifts in weight and graceful style of Garamond has stood the test of time. No one knows the story behind fonts. They just assume they appeared with the first computer. Typefaces have rich histories of how they came to be. I'm assuming anyone can guess that Times Roman was designed as an efficient and readable style for newspapers, but did you know that Baskerville was named after the man who designed it over 200 years ago? Sans serif typefaces are fonts that have square edges to the lines, with no points at the end. They were harder to chisel out of stone because it was difficult to get a square edge; it was easier to create the little feet that serif faces have.

People have been stealing and copying faces for centuries, which got even worse when computers showed up. Helvetica is the modern classic, the clean simple lines are used in hundreds of logos around the world and even on our government's tax returns. Be careful though, it was too good of a design to be left alone. Almost any typeface that starts with an "H" is a bastardized version of the original.

I could go on for hours and bore anyone with this stuff; I find it fascinating while most people just look at me funny and start backing away. I just think people should be more aware of typefaces, they are beautiful works of art that help communicate a message. The computer has made picking a font effortless, so try a new one every once a while. Trust me, anything written in Goudy will seem profound and anything written in Courier will make you look like a knucklehead. It's your choice.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hour of Code

I received some mail about the Hour of Code last year around this time. I had no idea what it was and I was barely interested in it, but I looked through it because I'm always looking for new things to add to my technology curriculum. I went to the website and watched the intro videos and started working through the activities. It took a few minutes, but I was hooked and I knew my students would be too. The Hour of Code introduces students to a skill they might not know they have; the extended linear thinking necessary to work through a problem.

I worked through the first hour and set up classes to use in my classroom immediately. I didn't know much about coding yet, but I knew more than them, and that's all I needed.

What was amazing when my students started working on it was the variety of students who took to it. I knew the bright kids would do fine, but even some of the students that, shall we say, "struggle" were able to grasp the concepts and really excel at this task. Since they so rarely get to be good at something in school, they embraced it all the more. It made me so happy to see them excel. A student that is often suspended was one of my assistants who I would ask to help others when they ran into trouble. I didn't have much to do with it, but I know that particular student felt really good in my classroom.

The big push with Hour of Code is coming up again next month, during Computer Science Education Week, which this year is December 8-14. They have expanded the website to include lots of activities that go deeper than the Hour of Code. They even have differentiated it for younger kids, with limited amount of reading necessary to include the tasks.

It's a year later, and I have now included a lot of programming lessons in my curriculum, and I think the kids love it. They see how this will be a skill they could actually use. I learned a lot, but I have so much more to learn. I presented my lessons at a few conferences, and the feedback has been very positive. I recommend any and every one to try it. It sounds scary, but trust me, it's actually fun. Being a geek can be cool.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

OK Twitter, you win.

I finally joined Twitter. Everyone at the Tech Forum is on it. At a round table discussion when we had to introduce ourselves, I was the only one who didn't have a twitter name. I didn't see how it was necessary to have yet another social media outlet to describe what my dinner looks like. What I learned is that people are using it in a purely professional manner, and that's something I could use, since my Facebook page proves what a cheesehead I can be sometimes.

I was advised to start slowly, I don't need to post very often. I should follow people that are in my field and having the big discussions. It's hard to discern who and what to follow though. There is so much to look at, the flow of information is like a firehose. But, from what I've been told by a few people, yes it's a firehose, just take in as much as you're comfortable and then step away from the computer.

So I'm on twitter now, my handle is eileen_lennon. You can follow me and I'll follow you back. If I figure out how.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

TechForum New York 2014

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Tech Forum. I presented my work "Introducing Coding to Middle School Students" which many people I spoke to seemed very interested and really enjoyed my presentation, and that was awesome. What was really great was the rest of the day. The speakers were inspiring, the topics covered were relevant, and everyone was so friendly and generous with their skills and knowledge. It was comforting to be among my people-the geeks. You could use words like "social media" without anyone's eyes glazing over.

I think I know a lot of stuff about technology, but then I go to events like this and feel like an idiot. The more you learn about technology, the more you realize how much you don't know. I have a lot to explore and discover on my own is what I took away from the forum yesterday. It's overwhelming, but also fun in a way. Technology can be tough and frustrating, but it is never, ever boring. Thanks for a great day everyone.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One month down, nine to go.

So September is almost over. It is not too bad since we have a four day weekend coming up. The schedule is still changing, which is confusing for the students, but it will hopefully be set by next week. That's where we can really start working on getting things done. The weather in September is always beautiful, it's a shame we have to be inside for it. Fire drills are a nice way to get outside for a few minutes in the day, we've only had two so far. We need to have ten by the end of the year. I hope we're not standing outside in the rain trying to get them all done.