Teachers’ Domain Equals High Quality Digital Media for Teaching

I watched Nature’s The Loneliest Animals over the weekend about the plight of endangered species.  My first thought was that educators have a tremendous responsibility to teach today’s students about the facts concerning loss of habitat and the importance of biodiversity.

I’ve been collaborating with several Ferryway 4th grade teachers on a project-based unit designed to lead students through a set of inquiry-based activities on animals and biomes.  The goal is to build higher order thinking skills in our students as they learn about the link between habitats and animal life.  According to our state (MA) curriculum science standards, students in grades 3-5 record details of the life cycles of plants and animals, and explore how organisms are adapted to their habitats.  In 5th grade, students are assessed on their understanding during the MCAS science exam.  OK wait a minute, you mean students take the high stakes science exam a full year after receiving the instruction.  YES!!!  In fact, an analysis of the questions on the MCAS science exam shows that between 10-15% of the exam deals primarily with animals and their biomes.  Additionally, 1 of the 5 open-response questions usually requires a deep understanding of animals and biomes.  To differentiate our instruction and increase the likelihood of student retention we have incorporated new digital media into our biome lessons.  Where can teachers find good digital media assets that aren’t completely off limits due to strict licensing terms?

Screen shot of Teachers\' Domain Animal Classification Game Resource

An excellent, free source for high quality digital media is provided by Teachers’ Domain. Teacher’s Domain (TD) is hosted and maintained by WGBH Boston.  One terrific aspect of the site is the ability to download videos, audio clips, and Flash interactives to your desktop.   In most cases, teachers and students are granted permission to download, share and remix these digital media assets.  I downloaded and integrated a 2 minute QuickTime on Nihoa Island as part of vocabulary lesson (PDF 763KB) using a student response system.  Students watched the clip and were asked which vocabulary words best described the movie.  I think you are beginning to see how useful this can be for teachers.  The interactive Animal Classification Game created in Flash fits perfectly with the goals and objectives of our biome unit.  Students are presented with animals that they must classify as mammal, reptile, bird, amphibian or insect. I also appreciate the citation function that makes it easy to copy and paste the correct reference to the TD resources.

Search Teachers’ Domain before you try to create your own interactives or videos.  Register for a free account to gain access to hundreds of digital media assets.  Let me know what you find and how you used it in a lesson.

Do I NEED to Twitter?

Maybe. Not all technologies should be embraced by teachers with open arms. As an educator on the front lines of technology integration I keep my eyes open to the digital horizon. I’m interested in finding technologies that can actually make classroom life easier for teachers. Lately, the mass media has become enamored with Twitter as evidenced by the constant invitations to “follow me on twitter.” Before I render a final verdict on Twitter let me describe my experience.
My Neotech03 Twitter streamMy Twitter birth was August 2008, username: NeoTech03 http://twitter.com/neotech03. I first joined because several colleagues were constantly talking about it. OK, I’ll give it a try. My first impression was positive since my colleagues posted messages that often linked to news articles on relevant issues in the educational technology world. As a Twitter novice, following a few people is easy and satisfying.
I’ve posted a total of 39 updates or Tweets. I’m following 7 people and organizations, and I have 12 people or organizations following me. The name of the game on Twitter is to create a network to share resources in a fast and efficient method. Twitter limits each message or post to 140 characters which makes it supposedly easier to consume information. Issue #1, the use of shorthand notation and acronyms to stay within the character limit make deciphering some messages difficult for novices.

During March, I joined a wikispace group called The Gr8Tweets Wiki that welcomed educators to experiment and learn more about the educational potential of Twitter. The Gr8Tweets Wiki was an opportunity to build upon my knowledge and comfort level using wikis on wikispaces.com by adding Twitter. Anyone could join the wiki by editing the Who’s Playing page. Participants were encouraged to post messages, sorry…Tweets, using the hash tag, #gr8t. The hash tag is a method that allows Tweets to be automatically tracked and searched. The home page of the Gr8Tweets shows a stream of the last 15 Tweets tagged with #gr8t.  Educators posted their basic info in a simple wiki table.In the spirit of Web 2.0 openness I set my profile updates to be unprotected to encourage people to follow me. Protecting updates means that you have to approve anyone who wants to follow and read your updates. Issue #2, Twitter spam. I blocked 5 users who started following my updates with the express purpose of trying to sell me a product. Since the bulk of my updates were posted during March, I’ve noticed an uptick in emails informing me that spammeister is following me.  Policing my Twitter account may become annoying if the rate increases.
Issue #3, Useless tweets.  Mixing personal and professional messages is a major issue when considering to use Twitter.  I don’t want to know what you had for dinner, but I would put your professional opinion about the impact of stimulus funding on educational technology in the NEED to know column.  Another aspect of useless tweets is wading through messages that don’t interest or apply to you.  I’ve mainly used my Twitter experience to document my activities implementing technology at the Ferryway School.  I can’t imagine managing a network of hundreds, if not thousands of people.  I do like the ability to stream updates though, especially embedding them on a wiki page because it documents the many facets of technology integration.

My advice to teachers is to spend your time mastering wikis and blogging before committing to Twitter.  No, I don’t NEED Twitter.