Saturday, January 26, 2008

Solve the Tech Teacher Substitute Dilemma?

I think that most classroom teachers would agree that preparing a for a substitute teacher is often more work than it is worth. As a technology integrationalist for part of the day, my sub plans can either be incredibly easy (e.g. keyboarding for first 20 minutes, TimezAttach or for rest of class) or incredibly challenging, especially if I don't know who my substitute will be, or if I know the person is not comfortable with technology, doesn't know their way around our computers.

Since we have returned to work this January, I have missed all or a portion of 7 days for training. It has been great to be a student, but more challenging that usual to prepare for the substitute.

With some units, I teach the skills and then the classroom teacher finishes up on their own time. For example, last week a teacher asked me to show the students how to create a timeline in Excel. They had never used the program before and so I got them started. She had prepped them before hand by having them decide which of their own life milestones were going to be on the timeline, so I spent ten minutes teaching them the tech side and then they were ready to roll. She scheduled lab time during the week to finish the project. Easy.

Unfortunately, I only see my students once per week for 45 minutes and I'm trying to finish my web design unit. If I were using Contribute with my students, then I could reasonably ask my teachers to finish up the pages with their classes since they use that to maintain their class pages. However, I've been teaching the students to actually write the HTML tags, writing their pages by hand. I cannot ask a teacher to do that.

I was gone three days of the first week back to work after the Christmas holiday. That meant the kids had forgotten a lot. Not wanting to have so much time lost, I tried to leave a lesson plan that let the students keep working. It sounds like it met with limited success. My students remembered too little and she couldn't support. It was a setup for all of them and I realized that I should have left a one off lesson instead.

Then today I read Sylvia Martinez's post entitled Students as Substitutes. That wouldn't be a good choice for unplanned absences, but for a time like this, where I knew weeks in advance that I was going to be absent, this could have been a great solution. I especially like this idea for my fourth and fifth grade classes; my lessons for third graders are usually easy enough for any sub to teach, especially since my assistant (who is NOT a teaching assistant) is very willing to drop by before school to help the substitute get up to speed.

Part of my recent spate of training was 3 days spent with the amazing Jenny Black at Tanglin Trust School to work on my Promethean ActivStudio Curriculum Developer certification. I am now more eager than ever to get my students creating flipcharts instead of just using them. I would so love to see the end of Powerpoint instruction and see its use diminish, since it is such a challenge to helps students create truly engaging presentations with it.

Picture instead that with a substitute on hand, they were taking turns using their self-prepared flipcharts to teach their classmates a new skill. Even if they run into troubles with the IWB, since all of the students would have been creating flipcharts, then they should all be able to help; the software is not rock science. However, unlike Powerpoint, I think the Activstudio software could encourage students to develop more interactive features in their presentations. Just as they love the animations and sounds in Powerpoint, I think they would love the actions, sounds, containers and ability to embed things in flip charts. I rarely see a good Powerpoint inspire other students to do better work, but just like good student-made web pages challenge many other students to improve their own pages, I think a clever student-made flipchart would spur on other students to meet the challenge.

Next steps for me include getting more copies of the ActivStudio software. 6 copies come with each board. Right now I have 8 boards and 8 copies of the software installed, plus one lab installed. I either need to move those lab installs to my lab, or get more copies. Also need to re-explore the student use of the Activstudio software. Last fall Kent had discovered that at the Promethean Planet website there was a page where students could download the software. I can't remember if it was the full version, but it was not just a player; students could use it to create flipcharts at home!!

So, what about you? Have you ever had students teach when you were absent? If not, could you? Would you? Why or why not?