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Monday, April 11, 2011

A Digital Divide in Urban Schools

In today’s society, many Americans believe that urban schools are consistently failing to educate the students that they serve. Despite the fact that some people think schools are doing a sufficient job of educating today’s youth, there is a growing number of those who strongly believe that the conditions in certain schools are appalling. Due to various observations, case studies, and research reports, society’s perception of urban schools is quite saddening. Students in urban schools are presumed to achieve less in school, attain less education, and encounter less success in the labor market following their schooling. In many cases, researchers as well as educators tend to associate this professed performance of urban youth to home and school environments that are failing to foster educational and economic success. Nevertheless, it is important to realize outside factors do not necessarily determine the path in which students take. Influential as they might be, the growing challenges and obstacles that urban students face outside the classroom are not the only factors that shape academic success. One must first consider the question: Are schools the problem, or the solution?

In America, social class affects one’s life chances across a broad spectrum of social phenomenon. Generally, social class typically refers to wealth. As outlined by Jean Anyon (1980), “one’s occupation and income level contribute significantly to one’s social class” (p. 254). In America, a person’s social class often plays a significant role in one’s success and achievement. For example, the more money a person has access to, the more opportunity they have for higher education. Accordingly, the higher the education they achieve, the better the career prospects are. Thus, the better the career, the more money they will make, and the cycle continues. Unfortunately, many urban schools in today’s society are perpetuating this reproduction social inequality. In fact, Jean Anyon asserts that “public schools in complex industrial societies like our own make available different types of educational experience and curriculum knowledge to students from different social classes” (p. 253). Essentially, there are differences in classrooms with contrasting social class backgrounds, and urban public schools are usually the ones receiving the shorter end of the stick.

When thoroughly planned and used in transformative ways, technology implementation can definitely prove to be an effective teaching tool. Nevertheless, technological resources are very scarce in today’s urban schools. Of course there are free Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts that teachers can use inside the classroom to engage students in learning activities that foster 21st century schools. However, these free tools still require access to an efficient computer along with internet access. In the book, Leading 21st Century Schools, Schrum and Levin (2009) report that “schools with high poverty rates and those in rural areas that have access typically have slower connections to the internet…This can have a significant impact on the types of activities that students are able to accomplish” (p. 169). Hence, even though teachers and students are not restricted from using these tools due to financial circumstances, they might still be unable to access these resources because they have poor internet connections and outdated computers. These are just some of the concerns I have as a prospective urban educator. There is so much you can do with technology today, yet and still many students never get a chance to experience the benefits.

I remember visiting an urban school for one of my projects in my Urban Education course in college; I will never forget the conversation I had with one of the Social Studies teachers. During my first conversation with this teacher, she told me “these kids just don’t get it. They can’t do Google Docs; it’s just beyond them.” I was shocked! She had such low expectations for her eighth grade students and it was sad. How do you expect a group of students to excel at anything if they have never been exposed to it? Is it their fault that this is the first time they have ever heard of Google Docs? They have never the experience! This is the reason why it is so important to expose students to various technological tools and engage them in lessons and activities that require them to use technology. We are the teachers. If we do not take on the responsibility, then who will?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Are You “Feeding” Your Students?

Real Simple Syndication, also known as RSS is a great way for teachers and students to consume published works online. In today’s 21st century, there is a wealth of information online just waiting to be explored by both teachers and students. RSS feeds provide online users with an opportunity to consume and organize information on the Internet in a more efficient and relevant way. One of the greatest aspects about RSS feeds is that the information of the web comes to you. You do not have to search everyday to find relevant topics and interests. Instead, by using RSS you can subscribe to certain websites, blogs, and news sites to receive updates. Students and teachers can set up an RSS feed reader that allows them to collect different RSS feeds that they subscribe to. Google Reader is great because it is free and you only need a Google account to get started.  Once you set up your account, the rest is just a matter of finding the content you want to subscribe to.  I personally have been inspired to give RSS a deeper look because I feel that it can be a great tool for busy professionals. As a prospective teacher, I may not always have time to check a particular site for new information and news. However, with the help of RSS, I can still receive the information I desire without having to constantly search for it in my busy schedule. Students can even use RSS feeds for current event projects, research topics, or even student blogs. Overall, online users can use these feeds to locate information easily, classify and categorize information, as well as maximize their time without dealing with spam issues. The following is a video that outlines this RSS feed process.

    Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Portfolio Assessment in the 21st Century

    Portfolios are a great assessment tool to use in the classroom as an alternative to more traditional forms of educational testing. In general, a portfolio is a systematic collection of one’s work that can be used for a number of purposes. In the classroom, teachers can use portfolios to document student progress, display student accomplishments, and evaluate student development over time. In addition to this, portfolio assessments provide teachers with the opportunity to measure each student’s achievement while allowing for individual differences. Moreover, teachers can also foster students’ self-evaluation skills by encouraging them to reflect on and assess their own progress and accomplishments. Students will be able to see improvements through stages of growth and learn the importance of self-evaluation for future endeavors.

    As an educator in today’s technologically advanced society, I have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to prepare students for success in the 21st century. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills website, “People in the 21st century live in a technology and media-suffused environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools, and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology.” Students in today’s modern classrooms are digital learners growing up in a world that is constantly changing and developing by the minute. However, teachers are still criticized for their lack of technology usage in the classroom. Perhaps this is the reason why “so many of today’s students feel they have to power down and feel disconnected when they come to school” (Schrum and Levin, 2009, p. 29).

    One of the ways that teachers can prepare students for the 21st century and use technology to augment learning is by incorporating electronic portfolios into the curriculum. Usually referred to as e-portfolios, electronic and digital portfolios are a great way to document and showcase student progress and learning. Students can collect, reflect on, and store their work digitally, so that it is easy to access, organize, update, and share their accomplishments with teachers, parents, and other students. Electronic portfolios can communicate evidence of student learning in a variety of curriculum areas, and offer a number of advantages for both teachers and students. For example, when creating these digital portfolios, students gain a sense of personal ownership regarding their work. They are not only responsible for keeping a collection of their work, but they also take part in structuring and organizing their portfolio. Additionally, digital portfolios promote student creativity. They encourage students to emphasize the aspects of a concept most relevant to them in meaningful ways, while placing the responsibility of demonstrating knowledge and integration across concepts on the students. Furthermore, the whole system of constructing a portfolio has real world characteristics. For example, when interviewing for jobs, interviewees use portfolios everyday: teachers, artists, models, etc. I have even created my own portfolio!

    Digital portfolios create an elaborate and detailed story of students’ efforts, progress, and achievement throughout the year. Teachers can choose from a variety of different resources online if they decide to use electronic portfolios in their classrooms. Some examples of these online resources are listed below.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    To Blog, or Not to Blog?

    In my opinion, technology can be used to effectively improve communication and learning in the classroom. As learned throughout my studies at the Graduate School of Education, communication is an integral part of the learning process. In order for students to learn, they need to be able to receive the information their teacher is transmitting to them. However, when in a classroom, it is sometimes difficult for students to keep up with what their teacher is saying or telling them. Other times, students become bored with the same, mundane routines day in and day out. While student teaching, I learned that one of my greatest strengths was my knowledge background in technology. I was able to incorporate variety in the classroom, and the students really gained a lot from those experiences. Now that I am taking the course Intro to Teaching with Digital Tools, I am learning more and more about how to use technology efficiently in the classroom.

    Blogs are a great collaborative and reflective tool to use in the classroom. Students can use blogs as a place to reflect on what they have learned and even demonstrate their level of understanding pertaining to a particular topic. Blogs can better serve teachers when it comes to the management and organization aspect of the classroom. Teachers can post information for students and gain feedback from students in an organized and efficient way. Not only are these online tools easy to manage for both students and teachers, but they are also accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Moreover, blogs can provide students with the opportunity to develop the 21st century skills needed to become successful in the world. Not only are students collaborating and communicating with other individuals outside of the classroom domain, but they are also utilizing their creativity and critical thinking skills when developing their own blogs, and exerting their independence.

    In particular, teachers can use blogs to build on their students’ writing and analytical skills. For example, suppose a teacher decides to conduct a social studies lesson on Christopher Columbus prior to celebrating Columbus Day. Following the lesson, students can go online over the weekend break to share their thoughts on the holiday. Using the blog, students can engage in a debate about whether or not they believe Columbus Day should remain a holiday. Students can read what their classmates have to say, and then respond based on their opinions from the lesson they learned in class. Not only is blogging a great way to get students engaged in this type of homework assignment, but it also improves writing skills, and illustrates a student’s comprehension and analytical skills.

    Essentially, blogs provide a number of educational opportunities for students. Because of current technologies like blogging, the definition of literacy has significantly evolved. Students are no longer restricted to traditional in-class reading and writing routines that leave them feeling disengaged and unmotivated. As stated by Prensky (2001), students in today’s society “have little patience for lectures, step-by-step logic, and ‘tell-test’ instruction” (p. 3). Today’s generation of students are growing up in a completely digital world where they are constantly interacting with the Internet outside of school. Blogging allows students to share their opinions and ideas outside of the class while still reinforcing skills learned within school. Personally, I believe that blogging is an effective way to augment learning because it gives students a chance to demonstrate so many skills while engaging in the learning process.