As teachers, we have all heard the spiel about how our students are the digital natives and we are the immigrants. However, in my workings with 11th and 12th grade high school students I have found a wide variance in the level of comfort and skill that my students have with technology. A significant time investment is needed to allow students to become proficient at using new tools. Time with students is limited, and to maximize its use decisions must be made as to which technologies will produce results that make them worth the time investment.
Of the proliferation of Web 2.0 tools that are available, many of them seem genuinely useful. However, there are obstacles to overcome in K-12 education to enable teachers to utilize these tools. District network and internet policies often interfere with or prevent the use of potentially useful tools on the web. As a mere teacher, often my opinion is not valued as to the worth of a particular application or tool, and my requests are often denied… even when the request has no associated cost. Part of my motivation for this course and this degree is to put myself in a position where my opinion will be valued, and to gather evidence of the value of new tools.
What have I been able to use with my students? This year my students have their own Wiki at ghsphysics1.pbworks.com. They have collaboratively created online laboratory portfolios in which they have used Google Docs to create embeddable graphs of data, as well as an online Equation Editor to create professional looking equations in their pages using LATEX. Instead of using paper, students use an online template to create their own PBWorks page and collaboratively write their lab reports. Many lab activities involve computer-based probeware; students can upload images of the graphs of data they collect to their PBWorks pages. Java applet based simulations are also used, there are some really fabulous ones at University of Colorado at Boulder.
To incorporate new developments in science and technology into my course, I created a class account at Google Reader. This tool aggregates the information from an incredible number of online resources into an easily accessible format. My students each select an article every two weeks and create a post to the class wiki about what they found. They also read and comment on their classmates posts. I would like to have my students use blogs for this next year, but implementation might be cumbersome since students do not have email access at school.