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Teacher's Productivity Hampered by technology. No love.

Greetings Programs, I am a User. (Sorry, I rediscovered Tron the other day... Anyways...)

Background: I am a math teacher. High School Math Teacher. I am a engineer. I like elegance. I like usability. I like duct tape. I like being able to come up with my own solutions. I also like to not re-invent the wheel as I have other things to do. Lesson Plans, Grades, Re-takes, filing, parent meetings, staff meetings, continual professional development, making worksheets, tests, learning guides, and that secret side of a teacher called a dating life.

I use macs. I use PCs. I use unix/linux. But my preferred choice is the mac. Why? Because I have one at work and one at home. I was raised on it and unix. I lived in a house that lived by the Customer Calendar (Advertising), so I know products from Adobe and Quark. I like pretty buttons. I am a computer engineer, so I know how the things work. I know I can program my own stuff, but again... I don't like re-inventing the wheel.

The multi-prong Problem:
I have found it increasingly annoying to hear from on high that we need to integrate more technology in our classroom, yet most new teachers and old teachers are still using old standbys because we don't have the time to use and troubleshoot our way through technology. Making worksheets by copying and pasting by hand. Building test questions from book programs that only work on PCs or OS 9 on macs. Wanting to use videos from the internet only to find they are blocked. Wanting to post information to a website or build my own website to find that FTP is blocked or that online-services are clunky, restrictive, and cumbersome. Granted that I am lucky enough to have a computer, a projector, and an ELMO (videocamera hookup to a projector.) But for the love of turtles! It seems that the industry ignores us!

I use a program called Planbook (http://www.hellmansoft.com/) which is bloody Brilliant. Buggy, but hey, Its an honest to god teacher made, teacher driven, program. Planbook also allows you to publish your lesson plans to a website so that students can access notes, worksheets, and the like. Problem: Mostly local, my district constricts my FTP access-to no access. A solution? .Mac. Yet.... there are problems with a .Mac. I still haven't really figured out how the iDisk works so I can publish my handmade webpages and my planbook pages. I want a manual or book or site that explains to me how it works! Apple help pages are bloody infantile.

My options for making tests and worksheets are Appleworks at school with the equation maker, InDesign and MathType at home. I cannot install applications at school. Tho, I cheat with planbook because it is a stand-alone app that does not need Admin-privaleges to install. I make my test(worksheet/notes/whatever) in InDesign, print it out, vaguely remember to make a pdf version, perhaps upload it to my school virtual disk. And if I want to make any changes (small or large) I have to do it by hand at school. Whiteout and hand written examples, instructions for the win!

During class, I write out notes on the Elmo. Plain ol' paper and pen on a notepad. I can then cart it home and scan it into Acrobat, into a pdf, use planbook to upload a copy to the day of the lesson and yay! print it out when a student needs notes. I'm a nice math teacher, I provide online copies.

Problem? I have to do all this at home. Let's face it, the last thing I want to do when I get home is to immediately go back to work on paperwork that can be done in the classroom. I would rather be able to do it in my classroom the moment after class is done. Scan, pdf, post, done. Can't install acrobat on my computer. License issues and all that implies. Need a scanner? I bought a 3-in-1.. i can hook it up! But Im scanning to jpgs... that can be saved as pdfs that are HUGE. What am I missing?

A lot of my issues stem from the limitations (or invisible limitations) of my districts computer policies. I can't control my district IT, I can whine at them, write them letters, request things and so forth but if that is going to take time away from me making sure next day's lesson is done and useful-forget it! I have found some workarounds but they are all duct tape workarounds that don't simplify matters.

Am I looking for a silver bullet?

No, I am looking for people who have access to ideas, tricks, stand-alone applications, Productivity tips. Websites, anything that can be not blocked!

43folders has helped me with time-management, lists, engineering and software paradigms.. But now, I would like you to help me become a better organized, productive 21st century teacher. You all had a teacher you loved, what have you found that would bring your teacher into the 21st digital century?

<3 Thank you for surviving this post. Salindger

Updated 01/27/08, 22:55: The responses I have received are fantastic. Really, you have all given me awesome responses. Unfortunately, I've already seen one response on the web that has painted me as fossil and as someone who clearly doesn't care about technology nor her students. :< I'm sorry. I'm only human. ...Tho, I would have to be around a long time to be fossilized. Is 28 years enough time for me to become a fossil? ;) <3 Salindger

Updated 01/28/08, 05:45: I don't know if I am allowed to do this. Sorry Merlin! But I was browsing through del.ico.us and found people who have linked this article and have linked other useful articles, such as this: Back-to-School with Web 2.0 It's almost two years old. I would not have found it!

<3 Salindger

Updated 01/29/08 21:45: The Response has been overwhelming fantastic. I've already begun to implement some ideas in my off-time. As a student and user of technology-I am no stranger to the idea of "if you want to learn something, you have to spend time doing it." In the long run, a lot of time spent learning, doing, and struggling through a concept, a practice, or a problem-does yield significant and useful results. All teachers know this. All Successful adults know this. That is what we struggle to teach our young ones.

Many of you have been generous to divulge your regions, your history, and passions with me. Tis rude of me to not do the same. I teach in Oregon, I have only worked on my craft for 2 years, and I am the type of person who wants talk about a problem, analyze it, then do something about it. In a large department of, ah, well informed and learned scholars-sometimes the doing takes a little longer for it to happen.

I engage in many discussions with my companions about vertical and horizontal alignment. There is, almost, a naive perspective that once we set down our goals on paper... it is permanent. It is set. How deliciously and dangerously wrong we are to think that-but it allows us some sanity and a goal that is achievable in a short amount of time. It just seems after we practice for a while to almost reach our goals-we go back and change everything. :/

Learning has to evolve, just as our use of technology has to evolve. I have ambitious ideas, I have cool calculators and CBRs, I have friends who want to come into the classroom and talk about their work, and I have my TI-85 and slide-rule to hang around to remind students that we still went to the moon on nothing more than a slide-rule, some vision, and a lot of careful planning. (And thats why we still need to learn about logarithms cuz your phone won't work without them! )

I have shared your responses with my colleagues and they are all looking towards me to implement the ideas and see how I fare with them. And since I am a gadget girl... That means they get to play with my toys.

Really, I don't want to lose this conversation. I don't want it to end either.

<3 Salindger

anna2's picture

the wiki is a good idea

There's another wiki program at Tiddlyspot that will allow you to access it from both the client and the server side - so you can download the online wiki to a flashdrive, run it off of any computer, save the changes and upload it later to the web. It's free. That might help with the class notes.

But for the other -- is it possible to just use a laptop at school? Then you have all the programs you need with you during the day, and you can still upload the info to the school's computers when necessary. You can make what ever changes you need to your host documents, and FTP from home. I second the idea of your own space: if nothing else, it's dedicated, and won't change if you ever switch to a new school.

And although I love my mac, if getting a laptop is an option, maybe try a tablet computer. They have handwriting recognition, and there's the OneNote software that's supposed to be pretty good.

I'm a student, and I use Word docs and the wiki all the time. I tend to save the pdf until I know I'm switching from the mac to the pc or if I have to upload it. I also use Math Type, but in a pinch, you can use the old-school math notation using the regular keyboard symbols that appear in Word -- these can be cut+pasted into the wiki directly.

The great thing about the wiki is that it permits tagging: so if you're talking about say, differentiation on one day, and power series later on, you can tag them to each other and explicitly put the connection there.




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