Often as I engage with my social media channels and professional learning networks, I am delighted to learn about new apps, sites, and uses for digital technology in the classroom. As I continue along a steep learning curve using technology with a group of Junior students this year, I am on the lookout for great ideas. The best ideas often arrive in the form of teachers’ tweets on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, or posts on Edmodo. I have often received inspiration from these teachers, and as a result, I have decided to create a new category for my blog entitled Teachers Using Tech.
One Canadian teacher who has truly embraced digital technology in the classroom is Renu Mann, a teacher who believes in the power of technology as a tool for today’s students. Renu recently used Weebly to create a fantastic website called My Math Folder featuring Math games, resources, and websites. Renu Mann is the first teacher I will feature on my blog. Our interview follows.
EB. How long have you been teaching? What are some of the different experiences you’ve had over the years?
RM. I started my teaching career in India over 10 years ago, where I taught English for about two years. When I moved to Canada and started teaching in Toronto in 2005, I was nervous as I had to teach all subjects to one group of students. My biggest fear was teaching math. I had a hard time passing the subject as a student, and I thought I didn’t know enough to be able to teach it, but I managed! Since that time, I have taught both junior and middle school. Over the years I have been involved in the Math Committee, sports teams, as well as special event organization. Presently I am focused on co-chairing the IT Committee at my school. I am thankful to be a part of a school where I was presented with many learning opportunities and new ideas and initiatives are warmly received. Every experience made me richer as I learned from others.
EB. Have you always used technology in your instructional practices?
RM. Believe me, using technology was not my forte. I like dealing with people, not machines. It took me some time to realize that these machines have shrunk the globe and connected people. Along with the internet growing leaps and bounds, my kids were growing fast too. As my older son entered his teens, despite having all the necessary safeguards in place, seeing him online made me uneasy and fearful. I felt that I was behind in using technology instead of being beside my child, and the students I taught. In order to keep pace with them, I had to upgrade my knowledge.
Now, after completing my IT Additional Qualifications Specialist and an E-Learning course, I feel capable of integrating technology into my classroom instruction, which makes learning fun and interesting. In addition, instead of wasting my energy on being fearful, I can teach my children and students how to be safe on the internet.
EB. How do you help your students understand safety online?
RM. I start the academic year by teaching students how to be safe online. We start by questioning WHY it is important to practice online safety. The “why” is more crucial than the “how” because students need to understand the threats they are exposed to within the anonymity of the internet. For this purpose, I use my “Orientation to E-Learning” website and ConnectEd program with my students, and for parents, I have provided many Internet Safety links on my class website.
EB. What is your favourite subject to teach or explore with kids?
RM. As a student, I knew that I had to read and write for the rest of my life, but I had gladly bid farewell to math after high school. At that time I didn’t realize that math is everywhere; the expression is not just a cliché! So I decided that I didn’t want to teach math the way I myself was expected to learn it. I had to relearn math to be able to facilitate the learning of my students. My colleagues in middle school helped me a lot, and so did YouTube’s instructional videos and the abundance of resources on the internet.
Math is certainly my favourite subject to explore with my students! I realized that it is very easy for kids to hate math when students lose confidence as they struggle with the understanding of new concepts, so I try to use a variety of hands-on materials (manipulatives) and virtual resources. I try my best to make sure that my students understand the concept rather than giving in to regurgitation. We try to focus on real life application of the concepts learned in class. In other words, I am trying my best to make the learning of math authentic for my students, and this is just the beginning!
EB. Have you used website creation software to prepare content for your students, and if so, which is your favourite and why?
RM. During my E-Learning course, I had to develop a website with a focus on “Orientation to E-Learning” for my grade 5 class. I needed a simple, user friendly web-design programme as it was my very first experience creating a website. My instructor recommended Weebly, and presently I have six subject specific websites that I use with my students, which are password protected. I liked Weebly for its simplicity, and subscribed to an educator’s account. Using Weebly is as easy as using any publishing software.
EB. What are some of the ways in which you have used Weebly for your own purposes, with your students, with other teachers, and with the community?
RM. I created my first website for a culminating task for my e-Learning course, which I now use with my students to learn about internet safety and netiquette. It is designed to familiarize students to various components like assignment forms, contact forms, blogging, discussion forums, surveys etc. I have a Health website, and my science and social studies websites are still under construction. I keep adding resources as I teach. The latest website I am working on is “My Math Folder”. Just like teaching and learning, all these websites are a work in progress. I have shared my websites with my colleagues, and encouraged them to use Weebly.
EB. How do you use Weebly to address the curriculum with students, and why is this helpful?
RM. All the subject specific websites I have created are based on the curriculum expectations established by the Ontario Ministry of Education. For example, I developed a website to teach the grade 5 puberty unit. As it is a sensitive topic, I wanted my students to have access to teacher chosen resources to learn instead of finding information from some inappropriate sources. So I created a blended learning course for my students. Parents can access the website too and be aware of what students are learning in class. When it comes to puberty, many students are usually too shy to ask questions in class, and my Weebly website just made teaching this unit simple for me. The students can send me questions and comments anonymously, and using polls helps me gauge their comfort level, helping me pick up the pace, or slow down if needed. My grade 5 students love to use Weebly too. Last year my students created website using Weebly to present their autobiographical writing, and this year, my students are working on it to create their portfolios. They are so excited about it.
EB. What are some of the key features and functions you appreciate most about Weebly?
RM. There are a variety of key features I appreciate:
- To begin with, the Help Center has answers to almost any question you may ask. There are step by step explanations with screen captures, as well video guides for some topics
- Weebly has quite a variety of templates that you can customize to suit your needs. You can change the colour palette, fonts and backgrounds, and design the pages the way you want.
- Although knowing HTML can be handy as it provides you the option of using HTML codes, but you don’t need to know HTML coding to design with Weebly. I don’t. It is menu driven like any other publishing software. I love that I can drag and drop components, and use URLs to images. In my opinion, it is even simpler than Microsoft Word or Publisher.
- The components are amazing. You drag and drop components like slide shows, images, documents, HD videos, YouTube videos, contact forms, assignment forms, embed codes and more. Creating polls and surveys is quite simple. You really have to use it to believe it!
- The form entries, and surveys can be easily converted and saved as excel files, and you can see the stats for page visits for your website.
- Weebly auto saves your changes like other web design tools, but it does not publish automatically. You have control over that.
- As a teacher, safety is the most important feature for me. I like the fact that I can lock the websites and individual pages, and make them password protected to keep my students’ work private and secure.
EB. Please tell me about the new Math site you created.
RM. When I started taking IT courses, I discovered many useful resources for the teaching and learning of Math to cater to the learning styles and preferences of my students. I used to share those with my students through Edmodo, or on a Google document. However, that format was not organized enough to access them easily. So I decided to create a Weebly for this purpose.
The name, My Math Folder, is simple to remember. I created the “Authentic Learning” section for a math course I am currently enrolled in, and then later on added most of the resources from my collection under various other sections like Blended Learning, White Board Interactives, Play and Learn, Online Math Dictionaries, etc. It houses a collection of free online resources for my students and colleagues. Now I am able to access the resources easily for classroom use, as well as for students to use at home. This site will be a work in progress as long as I am in the profession of teaching. I am delighted when I see my younger son go to the site and select a website to play math games on. He is having fun learning math, and that is exactly what I have been working and hoping for.
EB. Renu Mann, thank you for your enthusiastic responses.
I encourage you to visit Renu’s site, My Math Folder, in order to access a great variety of math games and tools for your students. If you are a parent, this site is equally valuable for you. You will easily be able to find a suitable tool to support your child in any strand of Mathematics he or she is working on. I myself have used My Math Folder in order to support students of varying abilities in the classroom.
Renu Mann is the first teacher featured in my new blog category, Teachers Using Tech.
If you are an educator who is passionate about using technology in the classroom, please contact me. You may be the next teacher featured on Teachers Using Tech.