Sunday, November 15, 2009

Because It's Good For You!

Why do I have to eat my veggies? Why do I have to exercise? Why do I have to reflect upon my learning and write down my thoughts??

I was recently responding to a fellow online classmate's post about when do people find the time to blog? We weren't talking about the kind of creative task avoidance that causes me to rearrange my living room instead of grade papers. We were talking about the professionals who take time out of their busy lives to actually post their reflections about life and education's role in it. Although I have few, if any, actual good habits, I've decided to come back around to this whole blogging thing. Why? Because it's good for me...and my students...and perhaps even my colleagues in the field. I'm not so wrapped up in myself that I think I have the corner on the teaching market (cute jackets, maybe) but I do feel that after 20 years in the field, maybe my small struggles or triumphs might help motivate another person to try something new or avoid my dumb mistakes.

Another colleague and I are ready to take the plunge into the world of academia again in pursuit of doctoral degrees and as a part of this learning process, we thought a blog or other online publishing tool might help us to provide thoughtful discourse on our experiences and communicate with others in the field. Or help us to keep our sanity. Whatever.

As a part of an online class right now I am supposed to be keeping a journal. I am to be reflecting each week on my learning process - an excellent exercise and I am now left wondering why I didn't put these reflections into a blog format - especially now that we are to create an ePortfolio of our work. Do you think my online facilitators will notice that the dates of my entries are all the same and start today....or tomorrow? I could definitely wait until tomorrow...

Friday, August 7, 2009


Well, I have to say that I've seen/heard some great music today. The crowd has been reasonably well behaved. But as the rain continues to fall and more fans stream in the gates, I'm waiting for the inevitable slip-n-slide mud mosh to begin!
Sent from my BlackBerry device from Cincinnati Bell Wireless

I'm Mobile, Baby!

Hi! In preparation for my weekend @ Lollapalooza, I thought I'd check into posting from my new Crackberry. cool! I think I am in giddy gadget heaven right now. Oh yeah, and the picture is of my Mom's dog, Casey. I'm thinking if he looks like he is a little warm, I'm going to be in big trouble this weekend with temps in the 90's AND thunderstorms. Ms. Given is not a fan of the Outdoors when conditions are less than perfect. More information you didn't really care to know coming your way soon!

Sent from my BlackBerry device from Cincinnati Bell Wireless

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Lessons, New Learning, New Beginnings

It's that time again - no, not the dog days of summer - time for back to school - it's a bit early for many of us, but one of the great things about cutting your summer a bit shorter in order to show up to take a class on site is that it is a great way to E-A-S-E back into the school year. Even after day one of our "Tech Tune Up" class, I got to touch base with friends, remind myself of my log in password show up at 9 and leave by 3...ish with no homework - it's like school without the stress! Anyway, the class I am taking gives me the puttering time I need to figure out the particulars of all of the cool tools I want to use with my students this year:
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Diigo (social bookmarking on steroids)
  • RSS subscriptions
  • Jing (a screen and sound capture program so I can give directions without actually, you know, giving directions)

and more! I'll try to zero in on each tool and how I plan to use it as I go through my class this week. Maybe I can help others avoid some pitfalls and remind myself of all of my "big ideas" I have planned for the school year before reality sets in ;).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Vision of Students Today

I found this video to be thought provoking along the lines of Did You Know? It's from a couple of years ago but it still seems pretty relevant.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Jing Embedded - Sort of

Found a post on Edublogger telling me a work around for embedding video in Blogger.

Attention Literacy

In my readings I have come across discussion about the "attention" students pay when in class - especially in college courses where they all come with laptops and smart phones. One school of thought is that this is how the learner interacts with the content being discussed. With my internet linked device, I can look up info on the teacher's credentials, get a definition of a word or concept mentioned and read ahead in the text book while gathering additional sources...or, I can update my status on facebook. The point being, some students will choose to pay attention and engage and some will not, whether there is a laptop involved or a pen and piece of paper for doodling.

The other thought is that attention is a skill to be learned and addressed. While teachers and professors should be always exploring new strategies to keep students engaged, the act of paying attention to one task for a reasonable amount of time now seems to be the exception rather than the rule and we can help prepare students by asking them to unplug once in a while.

As I search for new ways to engage students in building collaborative learning communities online, it also occurs to me that face to face discussion and learning needs to provide a balance to all the screen time. Even as a 40-something teacher, I get frustrated when I am out and about and can't look up the name of the welsh cheese I can't seem to find anywhere in town (too cheap to pay for a smartphone data plan). I get it. The Web is an incredible, addicting information and learning tool. I go to a local pub for Quiz Nite just to remind myself that I don't actually know anything unless I can look it up online. At the same time, the skills and value of face to face communication and interaction shouldn't go the same route as cursive writing. I don't think we can afford to allow our students to go into the world lacking the real world, real time social skills us oldsters take for granted.

Today's Blugget

Bluggets are nuggets of awesomeness found while culling through the web. Today, while I was looking for directions on how to embed a Jing video into my blogger posts, I found a great blog called, appropriately enough, The Edublogger. The article I found was about how often to post to your blog. Apparently, I've already broken one of the cardinal rules - don't try to catch up. I am a fits and spurts kind of learner and blogger, I guess. I don't write anything for forever and then, out of a sense of guilt/impending deadlines, I post several lengthy pieces in one day. NOT a good idea, according to Sue Waters. Well, I almost feel a sense of relief to know that in blogging, quality reigns supreme over quantity. With RSS, Sue points out that most people are watching so many blogs they won't notice if you don't post regularly. The main thing is that when they do read your posts that they offer something of value to the subscriber.

Screencasting - My New Favorite Thing

A friend of mine @ school introduced me to Jing, a simple tool that allows you to capture your screen while narrating what's happening. In my opinion, it's the best thing to happen to classroom "directions" in a long time. In working with other teachers in online classes this summer, one person said that they left their lesson on how to do a math proof on Jing when she was going to be out of the classroom. Her thought was that usually, the substitute doesn't have the background to handle the typical geometry lesson plan so why not leave something for students so they don't have to lose a day of instruction. Here is an example of one of the screen casts I made for a class I was teaching this summer and I am looking forward to creating more for my students this school year.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I seem to have a professional development theme this summer and it's all about Big Shift #3 (p. 132) "The Social, Collaborative Construction of Meaningful Knowledge". I am looking forward to helping students understand what this means (as I figure it out with them) and in addition to focusing on "Know "Where" Learning". I found this book very helpful in giving me big picture kinds of things to think about (theory/pedagogy) paired with specific examples of what that might look like in the classroom (tools/strategies). Last year, our class had a wiki which was occasionally used and students mainly worked individually to complete larger projects they would share with the class. THIS year, I want to use individual student blogs to post some individual assignments and reactions as a sort of an e-portfolio of their work. We will use our classroom wiki to build collaborative understandings of our big ideas, current event topics, classroom contracts. As a teacher, I will manage evaluation through RSS subscriptions to student blogs. I will use Diigo to provide coaching comments, and additional resources to individual and groups. I don't expect to be where the Epilogue teacher, but I am looking forward to using new tools to help my students be more a part of the read/write web. And if I am really good, I'll remember to post my struggles and successes on my teacher blog ;).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Social Media is Here to Stay - Now What?

In Danah Boyd's article, she goes through a brief history of social media (software, networking sites, etc). She is making the point that even though the tools evolve and who is using them how has changed over time, there are certain universal truths that are now a part of our social reality:

"1. Invisible Audiences. We are used to being able to assess the people around us when we're speaking. We adjust what we're saying to account for the audience. Social media introduces all sorts of invisible audiences. There are lurkers who are present at the moment but whom we cannot see, but there are also visitors who access our content at a later date or in a different environment than where we first produced them. As a result, we are having to present ourselves and communicate without fully understanding the potential or actual audience. The potential invisible audiences can be stifling. Of course, there's plenty of room to put your head in the sand and pretend like those people don't really exist.

2. Collapsed Contexts. Connected to this is the collapsing of contexts. In choosing what to say when, we account for both the audience and the context more generally. Some behaviors are appropriate in one context but not another, in front of one audience but not others. Social media brings all of these contexts crashing into one another and it's often difficult to figure out what's appropriate, let alone what can be understood.

3. Blurring of Public and Private. Finally, there's the blurring of public and private. These distinctions are normally structured around audience and context with certain places or conversations being "public" or "private." These distinctions are much harder to manage when you have to contend with the shifts in how the environment is organized. "

The first thing that occurred to me as I was reading her article which was addressed to business leaders and tech developers was that I was really glad I was a teacher and not trying to make a living developing software. The shift from the fully finished product to consumer model to perpetual beta testing with the world as an audience is a paradigm many businesses are having trouble adjusting to - not to mention figuring out how to make money from.

The next thing I thought about was how different the experience of childhood for our students is from our own. The idea of invisible audiences, collapsing context and the blurring of public and private lives is something I can even see evidence of in the classroom. The article is yet another piece of information which tells me it is important that education not ban/ignore the latest technologies but incorporate them into a safe environment and teach about their responsible use to help better prepare our students to negotiate the waters of the future.

The Read/Write Web?

The most challenging assignment I have has this summer was to add to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. I use it all the time to get background info on everything from political events to obscure actors from old TV shows and it's a tool I encourage my students to use frequently...but what do I know enough about to ADD to Wikipedia? It's all been said and done, right? Anything I would add would come from research from somewhere else. And that leads back to the heart of what I am puzzling over in my own instruction. How do I move from everyone doing the "same" assignment in order to gather background knowledge to becoming knowledge constructionists? Especially, as I seem to be having a bit of trouble myself, in this area. Ultimately, I reviewed the work of my colleagues to get some ideas for my Wikipedia post and found out some interesting things about my fellow teachers. Who knew that cloth diapers are now made from microfiber or that Robert Urich was Catholic? And then it occurred to me that this is what the whole read/write web is about. Through collaboration and sharing, we will come to new learning and understandings all around us. Our own experiences and interests will help to add dimension to the content we are expected to master. Or, to quote Lee LeFever, help create the world's biggest encyclopedia.

Learning in Fits and Spurts

Or perhaps a better title would be "Dragged Kicking and Screaming"? I love teaching - and I love the times, like summer, away from it. I pity the people with no built in time for rest and renewal in their professional lives. How would I ever finish my "to do" list if I didn't get to start again each August? ;) And August, I find is my time for New Year's Resolutions. The ones made January 1st don't really count - at least that's what I tell myself when I'm hunting the pantry for leftover Christmas Cookies on January 2nd.

Actually, there are several times a year I choose to create new goals or make new resolutions. As I reflect on the waning summer, well, waning in terms of Back to School flyers already in evidence, I now remember I had quite an ambitious plan for what I would accomplish each day. And for the 20th time in my teaching career, I won some and I lost some. The time spent in professional reading has been thought provoking and the opportunity to discuss the ideas and put some into practice through online learning has been valuable but my learning and motivation comes in fits and spurts. As July passes by, I remember that I have a few more things to do before freedom from structured schedules is gone and the focus on the more immediate reality of students in the classroom is upon us.

I want to thank these people and sites for prodding me along in my efforts to become a better educator just by setting a better example and through their excitement for new ideas.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So I Guess Everything I've Been Doing Was Wrong?

Well, maybe that's overstating things a bit. I've recently finished reading Dr. Daniel Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School? He presents some great ideas that are simple and straightforward and I was right with him, until he started talking about learning styles and multiple intelligences are a bunch of "hooey". He's a cognitive scientist, so he didn't actually SAY that. His point was more that while there are differences in preferences and talents (rather than the more loaded word "intelligences"), the way many of are using this research is not the way it was intended. Gardner, himself, agrees that the "different abilities (or intelligences...) are not interchangeable. Mathematical concepts have to be learned mathematically, and a skill in music won't help." (p.125) Willingham concedes that "music and rhythm can help us to memorize things, including mathematical formulae, they won't help us to gain a deep understanding of what the formulae do." (p.128)

Should I feel guilty that I just made my graduate students read a book based on mutiple intelligences theory? Is all that time I spent reading about and trying to implement learning styles into my instruction a complete waste of time? My self-serving bias says "Of course not!" I found hope in that Dr. Willingham tells us to think in terms of content, rather than students in this regard. Different modalities should be match to what you want students to experience and learn from the lesson. A map or diagram should be seen; a song or poetry should be heard; and dribbling a basketball requires students to move in order to best learn the content. Admittedly, I was never one to "force fit" an intelligence into a lesson if I didn't think it was a good match. I like the idea of looking at my lessons and curriculum through the lens of learning styles and multiple intelligences instead of ensuring everyone has their intelligence or style addressed at some point but rather because students need to interact with content in a variety of ways and learn in the modality best suited for the cognitive processes of that content area.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

So cool!

Okay, so I started an iGoogle page and made it my homepage a few weeks ago. Would you believe all I wanted was an easily accessible calendar available when I was working on the computer...that's how it all started. Then, Mark Richardson's class, Becoming a Web 2.o Educator AND reading Will Richardson's book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms (Gee, I need to shorten that title!) got me subscribing to RSS feeds and I realized just how cool all the Google tools together on one page could be! I started by adding a box or "gadget" for a couple of blogs I wanted to keep up with. I got a little window that showed me the latest 3 or 5 or whatever number of posts as links. Cool, right? THEN I found out about Google Reader! GR is indeed a wonderful tool I am just beginning to appreciate in the world of RSS. So I put a "gadget" on my iGoogle for GR and I thought...that's a lot of info packed in the little box. What's going to happen when I actually want to read one of the posts that's linked here. I'll tell you what happens...MAGIC. Check this out:
You just click on the link and the post appears - with full links and photos! So easy! I rarely make time to do much professional reading during the school year. I feel like the day to day management of the classroom and related responsibilities keeps me more than busy enough. Maybe these tools will help me to take a few minutes to stop and read the proses... (sorry!).

Needs a Title

Currently I am reading Will Richarson's Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. In talking about the use of wikis in education he mentions that perhaps we should rethink what we ask students to do in our classrooms.

"But say assign students to do reports on a specific country, Argentina, for instance. All the pertinent reporting about Argentina may have already been done and collected at Wikipedia. So in this case, is it more important for a student to be able to find that information and know how to evaluate it or to know how to repeat work that's already been done?"

Wow! Does this not sum up the whole problem with new technology vs. traditional schooling? As in, if kids can cheat on a test through texting, are we asking the right questions? I have to say, that I work hard to be the best teacher I know how to be. I consider myself pretty competent in working with my students and in trying new ways to engage and differentiate for them, but this kind of pulled it all into focus for me.

An example: My 8th graders have a choice of several projects, one of which is examining the idea of leadership and learning about a specific career of their choice. I started to consider creating a class wiki to publish our work about careers to everyone and then a few questions came to mind...what about the kids who do the same career? What's the second kid who wants to learn about being a lawyer going to "do" since a significant part of our project involves gathering basic info of what a lawyer actually does in a day? If the first student already figures this out and we post it for everyone, does that mean no one else can choose "lawyer" to make sure everyone is collecting new knowledge/doing the same work? Does that mean I start a new wiki at the beginning of each term so no one can "copy"? Okay, that doesn't seem right. Duh! I need to change the assignment to better reflect the collaborative information gathering, editing, & refining process that mirrors the whole point of the read/write web. Whew! What are the implications? Well, maybe I need to have students focus their time on different things. Maybe time is better spent in teaching them to not only locate the information but spend more time deciding on its validity. Maybe, instead of answering a basic set of baseline fact-based questions, students should be sharing about their ideas, interpretations and questions about these careers. Many of my kids meet with or email with a person in their chosen field. How can these experts contribute to our class learning? Then I start to how many ways am I asking students each term to do the same basic information regurgitation assignment to give us all "common ground" from which to begin higher level/order thinking. Instead of answering basic level factual questions is there a better activity to ensure everyone understands the baseline material without asking them to copy and paste? I think we need to improve on our information hunting and gathering skills (RSS for students...another wow). It all seems so simple and so mind boggling at the same time.

Our classrooms, though now connected more and more through technology, still often operate in isolated, artificial environments, recreating what is new for the student but what others have already done. If we are truly going to prepare students to operate in the world of information, if we want our students to participate in more "real world" learning experiences, maybe we need to reconsider not only HOW students obtain information but WHAT they actually do with it. Guess I'm going to be working on some serious curriculum revision the rest of the summer LOL!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009