Reflecting on a Farm in North Dakota

This is my final Integrated Essay for my master’s program.  I wrote it on a farm in North Dakota with my wife’s Birth Family.  That is a story in itself.  But this is my final essay for my final class I needed to complete my Master’s in Integrating Technology in the classroom.  This Farm I am at is a great place to reflect…as is this blog I am writing…

 

Final Reflective Essay – Integrating Technology in the Classroom 

             I am on a farm in Southwestern North Dakota in the middle of nowhere. It seems that I often find myself here at significant times in my life. It is my wife’s birth parents’ farm, and it may be one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. Especially when all the kids are sleeping and the in-laws have gone to church. The peacefulness I speak of makes this setting wonderful for reflection, which is the purpose of this essay. The biggest reason this is a significant time in my life is that I am completing my master’s degree through Walden University in Integrating Technology in the Classroom. I believe I was a pretty good teacher when I began my studies a little under two years ago. My students showed tremendous growth on standardized tests in the Math Lab I had created and developed, and I believe the environment I created was strict and firm, yet could be fun and entertaining as well. Because of some amazing experiences I have had through Walden University and connections I have made there, I am certain that my practice will continue to help students improve standardized test scores, but more than ever and more importantly, the activities that students engage in my classroom will begin to prepare my students for their future in ways I had not imagined when I began my journey as a scholar practitioner at Walden University. In this essay, I will discuss why this is so.

Two years ago, my teaching partner had been attending Walden University. At that time, he shared with me how convenient on-line work was. I was impressed with the on-line classroom that he showed me he was working on, as well as his explanation of how coursework was completed. At that time it seemed as if most of my teaching colleagues had already earned a post-graduate degree or were working on one. After discussing my situation with several of those teachers, I felt it was a professional responsibility, an obligation, to continue with my education on a formal level. I decided to return to school to work towards earning a Master’s Degree in Middle School Mathematics through Walden University. I was excited after my first two classes, but I felt like I was regurgitating practices that I had already mastered versus learning new ways to become more effective in my classroom. After a great deal of thought and reflection, I decided to change specializations from Middle School Mathematics to Integrating Technology in the Classroom. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. As a result of that decision, I have increased my effectiveness as a professional educator in numerous ways.

One way that decision made me more effective is in how it has helped me redefine my role as a teacher. We are no longer simply vehicles whose purpose it is to transfer knowledge to young minds. Technology has made the information that students need to be successful more available than ever before. Very often, kids in our classroom understand how to access that information better than their teachers. Teachers, including myself, must commit themselves to creating professional learning communities that focus on the continuous improvement of instruction in light of constantly examining how well our students are doing (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1998). Therefore, the big change in me that has occurred is that I believe there are many more things that I can learn from my students than I was willing to admit. In essence, my attitude has become to no longer teach “at” the kids as much as to learn “with” the kids.

Secondly, my ability as a reflective practitioner has improved dramatically as a result of some of the things I have learned through my experience at Walden University. Reflection is not an easy thing for me to do. However, as a scholar-practitioner, I have begun to appreciate and understand its importance, not only in my professional life but in my personal life as well. The weekly discussions, applications, and reflections helped me decide to begin my own weblog, which can be found at https://teacherman79.wordpress.com/ . I not only posted my discussions to the Walden Classroom, but I also posted several of them to my weblog. I utilize this weblog to reflect upon and express new ideas I hear from others or develop on my own. I also get feedback from a network of teaching colleagues I have developed through connections at Walden or anyone who happens upon my weblog. Blogging is an excellent tool for reflection, communication, providing feedback, and most importantly collaboration.  Had it not been for some connections I made during the previous two classes, this reflection opportunity would not be there for me.

Professional leadership may be one of my largest weaknesses. I am unafraid to try new methods and ideasin my classroom; however, I am very often hesitant to share new findings with colleagues. When I have shared with other teachers, the response I get is usually that they do not have “enough time” to learn all these new-fangled ideas. I believe the best way to lead others is by example. That is why I will start in my classroom first. My hope is that when teachers see what I am doing in my classroom and how excited and motivated the kids are, they will begin to look into Web 2.0 tools for their own classroom. I believe I am a leader in our school as far as read/write web tools go. I am one of the first teachers to begin utilizing wikispaces in our school, possibly our entire district. Also, I plan to utilize a Multi User Virtual Environment in my classroom; again, a first for my school. I believe to be a leader to other teachers, starting projects with my students will be the best way to go. I have already done that with wikispaces and various Google tools. I hope that these tools are effective for my students and they increase their motivation. My new found, on-line network of teachers have all reassured me that is what will happen as I continue to introduce new read/write web tools and strategies to my students.

            A fourth way I have increased my effectiveness in my classroom is how I have learned to utilize research to better inform classroom decisions I make regarding instruction. The primary purpose of action research is to inform the decision making of practitioners who wish to improve their performance (Sagor, 2000, p.20). I have always used information I gather to make informed decisions about what I am teaching in my classroom and how I choose to teach it. Also, I am usually the first to integrate new classroom applications discovered and utilized by innovative teachers throughout the world. Through the Collaborative Action Research, I learned to make the decisions I make in my classroom more informed than ever before. Now when I make decisions regarding instruction in my classroom, I can gather information from a variety of sources. Student and teacher surveys are a tool that I have learned to use that I will begin using on a far more regular basis to help me make decisions about how, what, and where I teach.

Another way that I have increased in my effectiveness relates to how I have learned to collaborate and share with other teachers utilizinginformation communication technologies. I have begun utilizing reflective blogging and social networking tools such as Twitter and Plurk as a means of professional development. If I ever want an opportunity to learn something new professionally, I just need to log in and see what my Twitter colleagues are doing, reading, and attending. I have attended several free on-line workshops this summer because of links that were twittered by my network. I believe the read/write web has changed the way people, not only our students, can learn. I have become passionate about the importance of showing students how web tools can empower them to become self-directed, independent, lifelong learners. I have been collaborating with several colleagues via Skype, Gtalk, Wikispaces, blogs, Google Docs and other networking tools to collaborate on a variety of projects and for a variety of reasons. I am learning and teaching with others, collaborating across great distances to help both my students and their students become better, more effective learners. Collaborating with my new colleagues reinforces for me how powerful these tools are and improves my ability to use them more effectively. I continue to be amazed at how easily teachers from all over the world can collaborate in numerous ways, even though they are thousands of miles away from one another. I am excited about the many new tools I have recently become familiar with and the implications those tools possess for our students. I have shared these resources with other teachers and also given several lessons on how they work to teachers willing to learn. My plan in the future is to help whoever wants any help or assistance in beginning to use any read/write web applications I am familiar with.

Finally, through my collaborative action research project, I learned the importance of utilizing tools to find out what students in my classroom are thinking. It was so valuable to not only observe a big picture of what my students were thinking, but to also hear individual comments about students evaluation of how well things were going in my classroom. I believe the read/write web has changed the way people, not only our students, can learn. I have become passionate about the importance of showing students how web tools can empower them to become self-directed, independent, lifelong learners. I have shared these resources with other teachers and also given several lessons on how they work to teachers willing to learn. My plan in the future is to help whoever wants any help or assistance in beginning to use any read/write web applications I am familiar with.

When I am at homein my kitchen with my two computers and high speed internet, I have no problems completing work and connecting to content and people I need in order to complete an assignment. If the tools and ideas expressed in this essay are to reach fruition, I believe that high speed connection needs to be in as many locations as possible. High speed connection allows people to connect to content, ideas, and people from everywhere. On this farm in North Dakota, the only connection available is dial-up. In order to submit this assignment, I will need to drive 40 miles, find a high-speed connection and a computer with Microsoft Word on it, convert my Openoffice document to Word, and submit my assignment. The Walden classroom would not load properly nor quickly via a dial-up connection, neither would much of my blog, Google Docs, Google mail, or many of the other applications I have discussed. And I believe that places like this can be found all over the world. I think, though many might disagree, that places lacking connection would benefit greatly if they could somehow find access to this valuable, multi-use tool that I am only beginning to learn to use effectively.

In conclusion, many teachers continue to teach the same way their grandparents and great grandparents learned. I am passionate in my belief that this needs to change. We need to show students how to utilize this tool that is at our fingertips for a large part of many days both in our classrooms and in our homes. For 15 years, since the internet was “born,” the majority of what adults have done is READ information. Our kids don’t know a world without the internet. The internet they use at home is the READ/WRITE web. They are used to participating online, whether it is a MySpace page or Messenger to ‘talk’ to each other (Groom, D., 2008). This is how the web has changed, and most kids are already on board with it. However, many adults have little understanding of the importance these tools have for our students’ future. Finally, I hope you are not tired of me expressing my gratitude to the introduction you (Doctor Jacqueline Derby) gave me to Second Life. My experiences there have led me to some discoveries that will totally change the way I am able to deliver instruction to my students. Had it not been for the sentence on the instructor page in our online classroom, “My office is located within Second Life, login and IM Tech Zeno”, I would have never been connected to “My Own Personalized NETWORK of Teachers”.  Also, the learning that has happened for me with regards to Second Life, Twitter, blogging, Skype, the read/write web, virtual education, professional/social networking, and Wikis in the past several months would never have occurred. I have never in my life thought I could learn at such an incredible rate. Thank you again, Doctor Derby, for rekindling my passion not so much for teaching, but for learning.  I hope to be able to hook someone in someday, just as you hooked me. 

On a personal note:  Thank God!  I am finally done…Now I will have far more time to spend with the two goof balls pictured below…

 

 

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2 Responses to “Reflecting on a Farm in North Dakota”

  1. j9defteacher Says:

    Jeff
    I love “We are no longer simply vehicles whose purpose it is to transfer knowledge to young minds.” May I quote it on my blog? You say that you think you need improvement in the area of leadership. I think that you lead by example. Just by seeing what you are doing in the classroom, I have been inspired to follow your example. You have taught me a lot and I think you are an amazing teacher.
    Great Work!
    Your wife’s parent’s farm looks like a great place to reflect. I think I will write mine when we visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is going to be a peaceful place for me as well. Good idea!
    I look forward to continuing our discussions when the program ends. We did it!! We are done the last course. Yeahh!

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