Tuesday, January 29, 2008

VitalSource Bookshelf

I use this program with my students because it comes pre-loaded on their school-required IBM laptops. I was very excited a few years back to start using it because it allowed me to drop the anthology text from my required texts for the course, thus saving the students quite a bit of money. My tech coordinator also was happy that families could see yet another way the laptop "paid for itself."

Then came the glitches. For example, there are no line numbers ... on anything. Try reading and discussing Hamlet with your students and not being able to reference a certain spot in the text. Then I learned that the translations provided were (this should have been obvious, but I still had to learn it ...) the "open" translations. That is, the ones that are not copyrighted. That is, often the ones that are not as good. So for my world lit students, the Bhagavad Gita translation was nearly impossible to understand.

So here I am a few years into this. My students still read a few things using VitalSource, but I have found on-line texts to download (and properly cite, so no worries there) into Word or Google docs for as much as I can. This allows me to add line numbers at the very minimum.

All of this just makes me think about the stops and starts that come with trying to use technology as a tool in the classroom. No wonder many people don't ... who has the time to discover that a seemingly easy transition to laptop texts ends up being fraught with problems? Obviously I do ... sometimes. But I don't other times, and that is the constant struggle. I want to learn and be a better teacher, but sometimes I just have to do what I have always done and trust that it is okay too.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"The Internet Is Down"

The dreaded words were spoken today ... and for hours (and I do mean hours! from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM!), we were not allowed on our laptops at all at school today. The tech people were trying to get to the root of the intermittent service we had been getting all last week. What was I to do instead of being on my laptop? Well, my newly developed visual lesson (see post below about working on weaknesses in my teaching through my self-evaluation!) would have to be moved to another day and photocopies of the most important information would have to be made. Interesting -- I had literally not made photocopies for my classes in months. It actually felt weird. And gratifying -- when my students came into class knowing that they had not been able to be on their laptops all day, they said, "What in the world are we going to do today without our latops?" I know this might bother some people, but not me. To me, this means that I have integrated technology so well that they know it is the foundation of how the class runs. Not the content, but the mode. Yes, they worked diligently on paper "like old times," but I knew my lesson that relied on technology would have been much better. And that is what it is all about.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Poetry Out Loud

Our Upper School English department has just launched a school-wide competition for a spot in the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud. Every student will be learning a poem to recite to their English class and then the winners will compete for a single school champion. We the teachers modeled this by learning and reciting poems too. I have loved it so far. Here it is in a nutshell. We discussed in my classes today what the benefits are to memorizing a poem, contest or no contest. I asked them what they could possibly gain from it, and one of my students said simply, "A poem." Another followed with, "Yea, you always have a poem in the pocket of your heart." Yes indeed.