Maryland Teacher Technology Standards

Maryland Teacher Technology Standards (MTTS) is a set of seven standards, outcomes and indicators to instruct teachers in integrating technology in their classroom teaching and professional development. Standards I (Information Access, Evaluation, Processing and Application), II (Communication) and V (Integrating Technology into the Curriculum and Instruction) are most often represented in my teaching.

The primary electronic source for information in my school is the internet. We have multiple types of devices, both for teachers and students use, available to access the internet. I have both a desktop and a laptop computer for my use and to deliver content via a SmartBoard to my students. My students frequently utilize ChromeBooks in my classroom. In addition, they have access to iPads and a computer lab which hosts a series of desktop PCs.

Our school does not have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, and use of personal devices are prohibited in the classroom. While I would think this unfortunate in the comprehensive school classroom, it has a logical purpose in our alternative school setting. Further, with a high population of low socioeconomic status students, uniform distribution of technology devices creates an atmosphere of equity that may not be easily achieved in a BYOD school. However, it does create some limitations to technology integration in instruction. For example, students cannot access devices outside of school and most do not have their own at home; and therefore, I cannot incorporate internet-based activities in homework. Also, social networking services that students already make use of for communication are difficult to incorporate on shared devices, and this seems in ways a lost opportunity.

Beyond having the devices to put into students hands, you must know what you want them to do with them. Enter the infinite world of educational software products (or if you really want to geek out with me we can venture into editing and creation software). My favorite reference for classroom software is this handy Padagogy Wheel from Allan Carrington of Designing Outcomes that has organized a collection of web-based programs based on the target domains of Bloom’s taxonomy.Before continuing further, I cannot emphasize enough my feeling that technology, in any context, is simply a tool used to compliment the functions of human ingenuity. I must caution anyone whose expectations for the 21st Century student is that they may grow wholly when devoid of the physical, social and emotional experiences attributed to traditional learning environments, which are NOT afforded by digital technology. Some educators may comfortably claim that simply having the above referenced devices or directing their students to the mentioned media might satisfy several MTTS standards and outcomes. In fact some of the written indicators may support that notion. (IE. Standard V, Indicator 7 Manage a technology-enhanced environment to maximize student learning.) However, I do not share this ideology and I seek to find a greater sense of purpose and authenticity in the implementation of classroom technology.

So, how then do you address the MTTS standards effectively and maintain an authentic and comprehensive learning environment? Well, I start by asking 1) what do I want my students to be able to do (fellow NGSS groupies can replace this thought with what are my students’ ‘performance expectations’), and 2) how can technology assist in achieving that task? Simple, right?

Let me give you an example:

Right now, my students are studying geology, so my indicators are centered around concepts such as the rock cycle, fossils and geologic time scale. Our County has provided the essential question, “How can we use the structure, sequence, and properties of rocks, sediments, and fossils to reconstruct events in Earth’s history?” Here is an outline of me hitting some NGSS Earth’s Systems and MTTS standards during this unit.GeoJAAA

Step One: Engagement

  • What this looks like: Present a video clip focused on the content concurrently with presenting our artifact for exploration (which in this case are two sedimentary rock specimens from the same region of Appalachian Mountains: one displaying 300mya sea bed fossils remaining from the uplift forces which created the range, the other a 65mya sandstone containing visible plant fossils and a vein of coal). The artifacts provide a focus for this unit, and students will complete a visual narration explaining the origins of these and their own local artifact as a final product. The video is presented in chunks throughout the unit as a bridge to introduce, analyze and synthesize new learning.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students begin hypothesizing the origin of the artifacts citing preliminary evidence from the video clip to support their hypothesis. Students compile this as a first draft of their exposition. This may be a Word document completed in Word online and saved on their OneDrive account. (OneDrive allows students to share their work with me digitally, and allows me to provide feedback through commenting.)

Step Two: Exploration

  • What this looks like: If time and money were no obstacle, this would really look like my class on a bus headed to D.C. to visit the Smithsonian with digital devices in hand to assist in research and data collection. In lieu and via modern technology, the next best thing is a virtual tour. In the virtual tour, students would freely navigate the museum with the purpose of developing questions about the topic to explore. Some students will need more guidance and so I may provided them inquiry prompts or a task such as mapping the exhibit. You can’t really see much of the artifacts in the virtual tour, which is where the second site becomes extremely valuable in providing depth to the virtual tour. Students would refer back to both of these sites through the duration of the unit.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students use new information to revise their exposition. This may be a Word document completed in Word online and saved on their OneDrive account.
    • Students procure text and graphic references and support to include in their narrative.
    • Students develop a series of questions to focus research, and a list of resources to assist in research.

Step Three: Explain

  • What this looks like: Provide students a selection of websites containing interactive information about the concepts. Students navigate around and explore the content. This can be aided with the use of driving questions or ‘search and find’ tasks. Prerequisite concepts are explored here to enable a deeper understanding of the artifacts students are viewing in the Smithsonian. These sites allow a differentiated approach to allow students to attain this prerequisite knowledge and achieve higher order thinking. Here ideally, I would incorporate outside professionals or resources to further clarify basic concepts in context and provide relevance toward our goal of finding an accurate narrative to describe our artifacts. Students may engage and communicate with these individuals through technologies such as email, video conferencing or asynchronous messaging.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
    • Annenberg Learner Rock Cycle: I start here for my average students.
    • Brain Pop Rock Cycle: For students who may be challenged by the complexity of text or overwhelmed with the volume of reading, I would offer this as an introduction to the content.
    • Mineralogy4Kids Rock Cycle: For more advanced students or those with a deeper interest, I would offer this resource to begin their ‘research’.
  • Tasks:
    • Students organize data, research and visual aids for inclusion in their exposition final draft.
    • Students complete research through various resources, which may include communicating with geologists, museum curators, or other professionals.

*The above is one of four ‘explain’ activities, which specifically addresses the rock cycle. During this unit, students will engage in understanding of other prerequisite concepts including plate tectonics, fossilization and geologic time scale. All of which are used to support their evaluation and creation of their artifact narrative.

Step Four: Extend

  • What this looks like: This unit would be extended to include a place-based application of new concepts. Students would use the tools and resources they have acquired to begin to explain the geologic “structure, sequence, and properties of rocks, sediments, and fossils to reconstruct events in their immediate surroundings including the campus grounds and nearby creek.
  • Web-based resources I am using:
  • Tasks:
    • Students identify local geologic artifacts to focus investigation.
    • Students conduct research including communication with local experts to explain the presence of the local geologic artifacts.
    • Students final exposition will be complete using a choice of digital media for animating, digital storytelling or screen/video casting.
    • Students publish and present findings and receive feedback from various sources.

While many of the MTTS standards can be identified as imbedded in the specific tasks students complete in this study, for general reference, the specific MTTS Standards regularly addressed and useful in ensuring a technology rich environment include:

  • I. Information Access, Evaluation, Processing and Application: Indicators
    • Identify, locate, retrieve and differentiate among a variety of electronic sources of information using technology.
    • Evaluate information critically and competently for a specific purpose.
  • III. Legal, Social and Ethical Issues
    • Analyze issues related to the uses of technology in educational settings.
    • Establish classroom policies and procedures that ensure compliance with copyright law, Fair Use guidelines, security, privacy and student online protection.
    • Use classroom procedures to manage an equitable, safe and healthy environment for students.
  • V. Integrating Technology into the Curriculum and Instruction: Indicators
    • Assess students’ learning/ instructional needs to identify the appropriate technology for instruction.
    • Evaluate technology materials and media to determine their most appropriate instructional use.
    • Select and use appropriate technology to support content-specific student learning outcomes.
    • Manage a technology-enhanced environment to maximize student learning.

You may notice, I use the 5e model for structuring my lessons. This model marries NGSS and MTTS standards very well in implementation. It is important to realize the steps are not entirely linear. Students will toggle back and forth between them and spend varying amounts of time at each step. I did not include a separate ‘step’ for evaluate since this component of 5e is ongoing through all the steps in the lesson. During engagement, I would be evaluating interest level and prior knowledge. While observing students exploration, I would be evaluating and coaching research skills and identifying interest, ability and engagement level to inform differentiation strategies. During the explain step, I am evaluating information processing and cognition and assimilation of new content. Here, I may implement a summative assessment to confirm acquisition of prerequisite skills. I evaluate a performance-based activity using a rubric designed to encompass all the outcomes of the content. In extension, I like to circle back to previous content in which case I am able to evaluate student recall and synthesis of previously learned concepts. Finally, while critical thinking is a component of all the steps in instruction, extension provides a concrete context for applying and communicating new knowledge at a high cognitive disposition.

Evaluating Online Learning Activities: Webquests

Here I will evaluate one type of online learning activity, the webquest. Webquests are teacher created activities that require students to navigate to various websites in search of information on a topic.

Webquests have recently been touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, my reaction, thus far, has been…ehh. Nonetheless, my technology hungry students love to kick back and click, and these activities tend to satiate that interest for them.

Recently, while looking for resources to use in our upcoming unit on geology, I found this Rock Cycle and Geologic Time Webquest, which is very similar to other webquests I have viewed in the past. Below I have compiled my general thoughts on webquests, while in the context of using this specific resource.

Generally, and this one is no exception, my greatest complaint about webquests is that they are so often written as low level thinking activities. Webquests take too much time to be spent on low cognitive tasks, which to me equals BUSY WORK. My class time is too short and too precious to have zombified students click, copy and pasting their day away. Further, it’s the internet gosh darn it…with limitless opportunities for critical thinking and creativity in a convenient package. Why are we limiting kids as if they’re still using computers from the 1980s?

Just to get off of the read/regurgitate wheel, I would amend the prescribed tasks with activities requiring some application and analysis of the content. Depending on the breadth of the content, I may use it as a starting point for more evaluative tasks or as a reference for something they’ll need to create. One approach I had attempted in the past (with mixed results, but believe strongly that could be successful with some tweaking) was to have the students themselves create the webquest and then evaluate each others resource by completing them. For the webquest I’ve cited here, I will likely rearrange the order (I don’t want to teach geologic time scale before sedimentary rock layers and the rock cycle…I’m a little linear that way) and chunk the activities, so that I can have students work in groups to ‘share findings’ and ‘make connections’ after completing a section. Rather than having them all follow the same webquest, they’d each work a section and then work together to make relationships between the content they uncovered.

Despite having been found on a blog that appears to have been abandoned early in its establishment several years ago, I was very pleased with the quality of the linked web resources (and the fact that they actually worked!). Often I find webquests that link to poor quality or non-functioning websites, which is absolutely frustrating. This could easily derail an entire class in short order, if a teacher failed to diligently scrutinize every click and scroll before handing it over to their students. Of course, that would never happen in my classroom, less I forgot that the students have stronger content filters when they’re logged in and half the links are blocked because of the banner commercials 😉

All in all, I think webquests are fine…just fine. They can be awesome when manipulated in such a way that leads students to collaborative problem solving or the creation of a product born of critical thinking. However, unless and until then, they make for great substitute plans, if your sub isn’t afraid to let kids touch computers!