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Logo from the Twitter page of thephysicaleducator.com

The BETA version of thephysicaleducator.com is now up and running. The site is designed for those PE teachers who love technology and want to find new exciting ways to incorporate it into their classroom. I definitely recommend the site to any teacher who is looking to increase their personal learning network. There are real teachers, currently teaching who are easily accessible if you have questions. In fact, if you want to collaborate, the site encourages its visitors to share and publish their own information. If you are even interested in being a part of the sites rapid growth, you might be able to participate in a collaboration project on Google Wave. If you are interested contact me or Joey Feith, the site creator.

You can follow the site on Twitter @phys_educator or go to http://twitter.com/phys_educator.

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My 13 year old cousin spent the weekend at my house. He is an above average student with a 4.0 GPA, and great thirst for knowledge. If it has been taught in his classroom then he knows it. There is no way this kid is missing any content being delivered via the lecture.

I asked if he wanted to get on the computer and he said, “Yeah, I need to work on my project about the elements. Mine is Boron.” OK I thought, because I am that person always trying to push the latest technology onto someone, I begin questioning him.

Q: “What are you going to use?”

A: “Microsoft Word.”

Q: “Do you know what Google Documents is?”

A: “Google What?”

I consulted two Twitter colleagues of mine, @ssjenk6 and @kyteacher, because they work in the same district where he goes to school, to determine if Google Docs would indeed be unblocked. Good. Now we can move forward. I proceeded to show him all the features that go along with having a Google account, Gmail, Calendar, Docs, iGoogle, Books, etc.

About an hour later, we begin to focus on Google Docs, because that is what was going to be most beneficial to him. While I was teaching him how he could share the document with me and I could proofread it or collaborate on it with him, I was also continuing my conversation with @ssjen6 and @kyteacher in another tab via Twitter. That just totally blew him away. I provided a real life scenario that I had where I have been collaborating on a document with other PE teachers. I shared with him that he could work on it at school, then at home, and anywhere else he might go with internet access. He told me thats great because he cannot save at school so he really has to rush to complete work some days.

So we proceeded to start on the research. Google. Wikipedia. Google Scholar. Google Books. Then we used the “Show Options” link while searching with Google. We drilled down Boron videos, Boron images, blogs that mentioned Boron, discussions that included Boron, etc. We did not have the assignment for his project, but we were able to identify several resources and leads (links)  that we added to his Google Doc so he could refer to it when he works on it again. While we used those tools to research I taught him how to filter information. I taught him how to use Google and quotations and key terms to limit your search totals.

He told me what I have heard several times from teachers and principals, “We are not allowed to use Wikipedia because it is not a good source.”  I would really like to know if any teacher who has ever said that has actually went to the website. So I give a lesson on how Wikipedia is likely not going to be cited in your research but it is a starting point and often times you will find sources on Wikipedia that you will be able to cite. I also taught him how an entry is developed and the criteria someone must follow to create an entry. Then I taught him which entries might be less reliable because of lesser popularity. His enthusiasm for learning the new tools is confirmed we he says, “I wish I would have known this along time ago, it would have made all my other projects so much easier.” Yeah. I agreed. “It probably beats the outdated stack of books that the teacher has laid out on a library table doesn’t it?

I am certainly not knocking his school, or teacher. I am not sure if it is at the state or national level, but I do know that students at the school and district that I work learn the same exact things. In JCPS (Jefferson County Public Schools), we call them CASA skills, (Computer Application Skills). Entire classes are dedicated to Microsoft Office. How to insert a hanging indent, how to double space and insert a page break, yep, they are all in there too. In fact, just click on the help menu in any Microsoft Office Application and you basically get a tutorial on the educational technology classes that I have witnessed in the school systems.

All the while, kids are using social media in unsafe ways and placing themselves in harms way. School systems invest large resources in heavily censoring the internet, so that, heavin forbid a kid does not look at pornography, or get exposed to myspace while at school. But while they are at home, they turn their head and deflect the responsibility towards the parents. Has anyone been on Myspace lately and looked at the pictures kids are posting, or the indecency of which how they talk. Is it not likely that there actions now, while they are young and naive,  will have later ramifications that might effect there ability to be successful down the road.

My contention is that technology classes today are basically identical to those that I took when I was in high school. What has changed, though, is the technology. The social web is so much more powerful. The opportunities for students to develop personal learning networks in positive ways exist, yet, school systems are either too archaic to realize this or just to afraid of the threat of lawsuit, that they just hide.

I have witnessed individuals who are technology leaders in their school and the are cutting edge because they include sound effects in their Power Point presentations. Some teachers take a class on the new web 2.0 technologies and by the time the become familiar the technology has already involved.

To me, when dealing with new technology, students need to be taught how to teach themselves with the new tools that technology provide.

I must say that the National Education Technology Plan 2010 has me optimistic. I admit I skimmed, but I did see words like network, collaboration, connectivity, and creative. The whole thing is 114 pages long.

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Today in the Courier Journal, Toni Konz wrote a great article about the use of social media in education. I think she represented the Jefferson County Public School district well. I am proud that the district has taken such a progressive stance towards the new social web and what it can do for our students.

Here is the link to the article.

JCPS has almost 100,000 students. The decision to unblock twitter is a huge risk. Someone must see some real educational value to it. If you teach in a district where these tools are blocked you might consider using this article as a reference.

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I have always allowed students in my classes to listen to their iPods (it used to be discman, prior to MP3 players) when it is appropriate. Key word, appropriate. Since I am the leader in my class I deem what is and is not appropriate.

To me, it just makes sense to encourage the use of iPods when students are exercising because whenever I run, or exercise I always have my iPod cued up to my favorite playlist or podcast. It is such an efficient way for me to manage my time. Why should I prevent my students from having the same opportunity?

This year, my school has taken a strong stance against iPods all across the board. In fact, for the first month of school the daily announcements end with, “Students, just a reminder that cell phones, iPods, and electronical devices are not allowed out during the school day, if they are they will be confiscated.” My contention is that teachers should be able to have the discretion as to what is and is not appropriate in their classes.

Now, my school is no different from most other schools out there. Administrators are quick to just outlaw anything that might get students off task, instead of just adapting to new technologies that engage new learners. Just as, with filters on the internet, students are  teaching themselves new ways to being sneaky. In my opinion, educators are encouraging and fostering that negative quality which is far worse than just teaching them appropriate etiquette with the new advances in technology.

It simply comes down to classroom management. Do I permit students to have earbuds in when I am teaching content? Absolutely not. I taught (keyword there, taught) them that it was rude and they would lose the privilege to have them in class if they violated that procedure. Now as a result, I have a lesson that strictly tells them why iPods are great tools to motivate kids to exercise and be active, but not a tool that we can practice in my class.

The over arching theme though is that administration reacts to the negative behaviors of students and simply bans or blocks content that can be valuable teaching tools. Students are going to learn what they want to learn. With the power of the internet, they can learn anything they want. Schools hold the responsibility to teach them what practices are appropriate and what are not.

My school district, Jefferson County Public Schools, has recently unblocked the social networking site Twitter. Prior to that they unblocked YouTube. I see that as a very progressive move by the district. There are too many opportunities that are denied when simply blocking a site because it could be used for personal email, as filters usually proclaim.

Give teachers the power of their own class and let them teach students proper usage. If a teacher is uncomfortable with it, then they simply so no. Case closed.

If we don’t teach them they will teach each other as the video indicates. By the way, I am a borderline digital native, as Marc Prensky would suggest, and I can remember doing a very similar rig as the kid in the video to listen to University of Kentucky basketball games in March during tournament time. I made all A’s.

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