Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's a good thing.

Ah, Martha Stewart. Anyway, some good things I've been noticing:

With the online inclusion environment, students have much less hesitation about taking me up on my offer to help. They don't have to stand up in front of their peers and leave the room, as often happens in a regular school setting. Here, we can cover a topic for a couple hours in an Elluminate classroom and no one knows the difference (except that student, who actually understands the homework now). It really allows for a complete removal of labeling among the the students. Only the teachers know who needs the extra help. And if you want to reteach a topic to a small group of students, you can offer it to the whole class without worrying that students without IEPs will take all of the seats in the resource room.

There are a lot of phenomenal websites out there (I know, I haven't shared most of them yet. I want to thoroughly review them before I put them up though because they're really that good.) And maybe it's just the students I'm working with but they seem a whole lot more willing to read through a website and do their practice problems on the computer than they are to use a textbook. I get to pull up the website that explains things in a way that particular student will understand, which is a huge change from the "one workbook fits all" setting I'm used to.

Also, my coworkers and I were talking about the mental benefits of being able to have students use a different site when they need to relearn a concept. Instead of seeming like "you failed, do the exact same thing over again until you get it right," you feel like you're taking a different approach to things. I know good teachers find new ways to explain a concept when they reteach in a regular classroom, but this is right at your fingertips. I like it. And when you pair it with the interaction in the online classrooms in Elluminate, it becomes extremely effective.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The case of the mistaken identity

If a student has a teacher in the classroom and a teacher for their IEP, who the heck are we? This is a question (a very good one, I believe) that my coworkers and I have been discussing via email recently. I think it's one that inclusion teachers face in any program. Even with a job description, you feel like you're constantly creating your role. In a "brick and mortar" school, you go to classes and help students and hope to be able to do more than be the unofficial class aide. You adapt to each teacher, sometimes sitting in a corner, in other cases wandering the room quietly answering questions or helping take notes, and in the best scenarios actually co-teaching a lesson and helping any student you can.

In the online environment, there are no corners to sit in. I guess. I mean I could go sit in a corner with my computer...but I can still work and help students even if the other teacher doesn't use me as a resource. That's a big plus. And the whole co-teaching thing is still possible with the Elluminate classrooms mentioned in the previous post. So it's kind of the best of both worlds. Productivity is always an option. And developing that mindset has been a switch for me. If I'm not needed in a class, I just do something else. If someone needs me, I know right away. It's pretty nice! I always felt guilty multitasking in a classroom, like I was being rude. Here it's a good thing :)

I've been able to help with students and discuss possible adaptations with other teachers. I think those are two big, obvious roles that the online inclusion teachers will need to fill. I've also been working on helping the general ed teachers track IEP objectives. I think this was an unexpected role, but it really works well. I have access to IEPs and a knowledge of what needs to be done and what the options for interventions are. I also have access to the course content and a knowledge of what is being taught and where the interventions fit in. It's the perfect middle ground. One of my coworkers has been given some lessons by a general ed teacher to adapt ahead of time, which sounds like it's going to work really well. That could be a huge part of our roles in the future!

We also have our caseloads, so like any special ed teacher we're writing IEPs and tracking progress. But that's nothing new and certainly not exciting, so no more about that! I'm excited about the involvement we've been able to establish. Everyone is really helping us develop spots for ourselves and try to define what these positions will entail. I'm sure it will continue to change!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sweet Cheat Sheets

Not bad rhyming for a math teacher! Anyway, I was very happy about the progress of the last week. I have worked with two, count'em, two students. I know that might not seem like a big deal, but I feel like a teacher again and that feels good. While working with the two students, I learned a lot about things we're going to need for this to work.

First of all, I actually need a classroom. We have an amazing program called Elluminate that allows teachers to have individual virtual classrooms. We can talk, text chat, use a two way whiteboard, and even share desktops in real time. It's unbelievably effective. And no fun to do without. Luckily, my supervisor is very generous and let me borrow hers. Hopefully I'll get my own soon! It's amazing how many little technical things you don't think of when you're planning. Every day I realize I need added to another list or given access to another thing.

Secondly, I need to build a library of cheat sheets! I have to mention before I get much farther, I find these very improperly named. I don't know of anyone who thinks of cheating in a good way. But I also don't know of any teacher who wouldn't want their students to utilize well organized notes while they are working. Ok, so some teachers may want the students to take the notes themselves. No biggie, just cover them in class and have the student take the notes.

In that light, the search is on! So far I've found two that I really like. One of them came from the test prep section of Cliffnotes. I highly suggest perusing that part of the site. It is full of resources for students in every subject. Great little "cheat sheets." But in a good way :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

A quick history lesson

I know, this is supposed to be all about math. But who doesn't love a little cross-curricular learning? I thought you should know a little about TRECA and TDA so you can see how this new program we're starting fits in.

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A History of TRECA Digital Academy (according to the TDA Training Course)

TRECA Digital Academy (TDA), a branch of Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA), began in 2001 with about 400 students. Currently, TDA has on its roster over 2500 students. The school persevered through many changes of curriculum and content delivery system, evolving in 2004 to a radical concept of continuous progress that proclaims, in contrast to the traditional philosophy of education, that knowledge is the constant and time is the variable. TDA is also unique in that it partners with other public school systems in Ohio to collaborate rather than compete in providing students with needed alternatives.

Through years of experience, TDA teachers have discovered that we cannot, nor should we, attempt to recreate the traditional brick-and-mortar school, simply putting it online. Teaching online is a very different situation than being in a classroom in front of your students. While there are advantages to teaching online, it does take a different mindset. For example, if you are teaching in a school that is totally online, like TDA, you work alone the majority of the time, without benefit of colleagues right next door, but you are also free to concentrate on the work, without distractions and without having to devote energy to classroom management.

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If you want to learn more about TRECA, I would really suggest spending some time looking around the site. TDA is only part of how they work with education. They partner with Ohio schools for a huge variety of services, like online courses, technology services, teacher professional development, and a whole lot I probably don't know about yet!

They have a new schooling option opening soon, too, called Learning Without Limits. I don't know too much about it yet, but it sounds really amazing. It's nontraditional like TDA, but it's an in-person school with a campus and everything (which happens to be in a outdoors shopping center...why wasn't that an option when I was in high school?) Hopefully I'll be able to share more about that in the future.

On a side note, here's the history of virtual learning environments. If you read all of it, you have more patience than me. It was interesting though!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

And we're off!

Today marks the third official day of the inclusion mission. Things are slowly falling into place and students are off and running with their work. I have spent my time finding my students in our database and matching them on spreadsheets with classes and teachers. I'm hoping this makes it easier to find information when I need it throughout the year.

As we're trying to fine tune our system so that it works with inclusion, I've been thinking about what inclusion is and how that will fit with an online classroom. As far as I know, inclusion in an online classroom is a relatively new concept and I have yet to come across other examples of it through my Google searches (although there very well could be some out there!). Working with the general ed teachers should be no problem. We can chat and email and easily plan together if we need to. But the nature of inclusion is to involve the student.

So what does that mean? Well, I'm a little short on answers for that right now! I'll be finding more and more as time goes on. The one thing I do know is that any student needs to be involved with other students to be "included." If there's no social interaction, there's definitely no social benefits. If it's just the student and the teachers, it's really not a class, is it? I'll keep thinking (and searching) and get back to you.