Sunday, November 6, 2011

Communicating & Connecting with Social Media

My head is still spinning from 3 days' worth of sessions at Solution Tree's AuthorSpeak in Indianapolis this past week. I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to the sessions I attended in hopes I can pay homage to the fantastic author-presenters I saw and as a way to connect those educators who were unable to attend to some of the information and resources.

 The first session I want to share is around the book Communicating & Connecting with Social Media by authors Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and Jason Ramsden(@raventech). I almost skipped this presentation. I consider myself to be reasonably well along the technology uses spectrum in personal, professional and instructional uses of technology.  I figured I needed to see presentations that pushed or challenged my thinking rather than going to one that I knew I was going to agree with everything said.  But I kept heading back to this choice, in no small part because I was curious to see some of my twitter heroes in person.  As it turns out, the session was interesting, challenging and gave me some new great ideas for ways our school and district should be promoting their image.

About Twitter
This session focused mainly on professional uses of social media in education; for learning, sharing and getting the positive word out on our work and our schools.  I have been using Twitter for over a year but seem to go through bouts of furious tweeting followed by droughts of nothingness for sometimes months at a time, depending on how crazy my schedule at school is - and honestly, when DOES the school year slow down?  It doesn't.

Think of the 17-year locust - on a smaller scale, my contributions and consumption of social media goes through more famine than feast.  What I liked about the presentation were the concrete ways in which social media can contribute to our learning, why building learning networks and communities outside of our own schools is so important and the message that if we don't promote our own good news, someone else is going to do it for us and probably in a negative light - to get control of our  message, we have to have a message out there (#ihtech; IHMSHeybruch).

The beauty of social media is that it "redistributes" expertise - the voice is truly with the collective rather than in single traditional forces of media. This should be an empowerment - to every educator - to get the positive things that are happening in your classroom each day out to parents, community members and other educators.  Thanks to the model set by some amazing voices for educational reform, I plan to be a more "balanced" contributor to the cyber and concrete worlds we now inhabit.  Plus, you have to love that typing in less than 140 characters at once makes it feasible to contribute on a regular basis.  What will you do to be a positive change agent in your school, community and twitterverse?

Check out the book by Bill, Eric and Jason for more great ideas on how to use social media to broaden your PLN.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Vote that Teachers Go Away.... attend professional conferences, that is...

Dollars for professional development, like for all other things in our schools, are evaporating.  Getting support, permission and hopefully  funding to attend a conference is becoming more challenging, especially if the conference is farther afield.  There is a movement to rely on in-house expertise to lead professional development and a move away from bringing experts to schools or allowing teachers to travel to see presentations.  I get it - we need to rethink the old ways of doing business.  I am a huge supporter of developing teachers as leaders in all areas of school management.  But where do teacher leaders get their training and ideas from?  What are the advantages to sending not just individuals,  but teams of teachers, to a professional conference?

Professional conferences do have an important place in building capacity, for teacher leaders and also in building relationships between members of teams. If we hope to encourage teachers to be more reflective, scholarly and research oriented concerning their own practice, then we need to provide opportunities to allow teachers to learn from other practitioners and scholars. Conferences can provide time and space to think about learning and to plan ways to incorporate that learning into action in the classroom.  Conferences can give a great injection of new ideas and strategies. If we truly want to take advantage of conference learning, however, we need to be sending groups of teachers as teams.  Allowing teams of teachers to travel together to attend conferences can create an environment of sharing and collaboration around all the great ideas learned.  As we articulate our learning to others, we clarify our own ideas and become more likely to put what we have learned into practice. At the same time, we might convince our colleagues that these are good ideas for them to also incorporate into their own classrooms.  Do teams who travel together, stay together?  It is true that colleagues to spend time together outside of work are more likely to work longer and harder to collaborate inside of work.  I propose that this could be an additional benefit to allowing teachers to attend conferences in teams.  By sending a team rather than an individual, more sessions can be seen, and more information can be shared with the staff or other teachers.  A group may als be more likely to discuss different ways of disseminating their learning to others and may be able to reach more staff members back at their site than an individual teacher.

Conferences are expensive and it makes sense for teachers and schools to be choosy about the types of professional conferences they attend based on goals and needs of the school, district, department and/or grade level.  The payoff can be beyond just new learning for individual practitioners. If we treat conferences as a PLC learning opportunity, then we can increase teacher learning, improve bonds between PLC members, improve the chances of information being shared in a meaningful way with the rest of the school/district,  and increase the likelihood that the new learning translates into classroom practice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You a Polite Challenger?

In discussing technology access in schools with my online graduate class, one of the participants made a reference to colleague and called him a "polite challenger". In order to gain access to the technology he needed for his students, this person would often push back at the restrictions in place. It is true that schools treat technology and the Internet as something to protect students from rather than a tool that provides some of the most exciting learning experiences we've ever had access to. Yes, we are in charge of student safety when kids are in our classrooms, but most "blocking" programs are ineffective - they tend to block more good content than bad and students often know how to get around these programs to get to the "blocked" site they want to get to in any case. Wouldn't it be great if decisions about what sites were open in your school was decided by a committee of teachers rather than a random technology person? Wouldn't it be nice if every teacher had the power to add sites he or she wanted to use with students to the "nonblocked" list at the time they needed them? Wouldn't it be nice if we were trusted to act as professionals and that those teachers making bad choices were dealt with individually rather than punishing all teachers and students by assuming we are incapable of making good decisions?

I am going to continue to be a "polite challenger" in my own school. I hope you, too, will stand up for the things you think are important for your own students!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World LearnsDisrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may have read this before - oh well - great ideas and deserves a second look after more grad classes. This was an interesting exploration of innovation in schools. I'm not sure I agreed with all of the business model solutions offered by the author but I do believe there is plenty of room for innovation in schools to improve student learning and that the only way we will be able to explore some of these options is by "disrupting" some of the traditional constraints that we take for granted as the "way of doing business". This is a great book to challenge the thinking of those of us who have been in the education game for a while and have forgotten that nothing should be assumed or taken for granted if one sees an opportunity for change.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recommended for Grades 9 and up - and I can see why. This story is heart-wrenchingly poetic; tragically beautiful. I was sobbing by the end of it. It's story about an unlikely heroine living in Nazi Germany and her newly discovered past time - stealing books. She evolves from a late starting reader to a writer of her own story. The writing of the story is evocative, as is its narrator. The way Zusak brings alive these dynamic characters is magical. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. Definitely worth the time and tears!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: It's Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade

It's Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second GradeIt's Not All Flowers and Sausages: My Adventures in Second Grade by Jennifer Scoggin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mrs. Mimi is hilarious - and inspires all teachers to be Super Colleagues for their "little friends" and fellow teacher types. In this book, she shares the best of her blog including why she loves her students, sharpies, sales at staples, and fab shoes. If you're a teacher, especially of the elementary school variety, you are going to love this book and might catch a glimpse of your fabulous self in a story or two.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

"Novelty Excites the Brain"

Wormeli, 2007, p. 107

I am currently reading Rick Wormeli's Differentiation: From Planning to Practice Grades 6-12.  Under his chapter about tips to differentiate, he mentions that we can all use a break from our routines and changing things up can help gain students' attention.  Don't get me wrong, routines in the classroom are a good thing - they help students know what to expect, speed up classroom tasks and help things run more efficiently leaving more time for learning.  That being said, Rick's point is that we all like to have a fresh perspective every now and then and as I was reading this section, I realized that I have probably allowed more of my own classroom routine turn into a rut at times.  Each summer always brings time for reflection and renewal and I do bring in new tools, new strategies and new perspectives about the work I do with my students, all the same, perhaps my routine should build in some more novelty. 

Suggestions from Rick's list include things like asking students to teach a lesson with you, or asking students to think divergently.  In my classroom, these things have become pretty commonplace.  It's time for me to try a few new options.  I don't think I am interested in velcroing props to my person and using them in a lesson (yes, that's on the list).  Since most of what I do in working with my gifted students in process and skill oriented rather than content based, I do think I could incorporate more simulations, field trips (the kind where you get out of your classroom - doesn't have to be a big old bus trip) and possibly music as a part of what we do.

Gee argues that even the most "reluctant" learner is often spending his or her out of school time plugged into technology and specifically, gaming.  What's the connection?  While I don't think we need to turn school into an arcade, I do think the fact that students are interacting with complex environments requiring a wide variety of skills should mean that learning in school could maybe capitalize on this idea.  Part of Gee's premise is that video games have a wide following because they are complex, but offer scaffolding to help players get on board quickly, they give A LOT of just-in-time feedback to help learning happen even faster and to let gamers know they are moving in the right or wrong direction, and the learning happens in the context of the game.  Kids aren't reading the manuals until they've already learned the basics and then if they need details, a manual might be referenced, though it's usually online.

One of the ways I'd like to explore novelty in my own classroom is to consider how gaming is put together and then replicate a similar experience in the classroom - sometimes, this might be a direct use of a game in class. I'm considering using the free online version of SimCity to teach my 7th graders about urban planning before we start to build our own cities of the future.  In other situations, it might just be about anytime access to resources, more models for expectations, better feedback, social interaction built in as a part of the learning, and more student choice in products or learning tasks.

How about you?  What are you going to do next school year to incorporate a little more novelty?  I know someone out there is already attaching velcro to their math manipulatives or rock collection...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Student Generated Curriculum?

At the end of the year, students in my classes have the option to complete an assignment using an online/tech tool of their choice, creating a product of their choice about a topic of their choice.  Some of my students are creating "how to" videos for using Web 2.0 tools, some are creating websites about learning a new skill, some are writing reviews of different online tools, some are creating resources for discussion on specific issues - as you can imagine, there is a variety stuff happening - fun, creative, chaotic stuff! 

One of my students asked if she could "revise" the project she had worked on throughout the year as her end of the year project.  As the "curriculum" for Discovery classes has grown, I have found it difficult to keep links to resources up to date. It's also challenging to keep up with the way that the assignments often evolve into more collaborative and/or creative options as the students put their own spin on how they see their own project come to fruition. I was happy to turn this task over to her and at the same time was realizing that our Blackboard pages needed some SERIOUS overhaul to better reflect some of the learning I have been doing about digital writing, collaboration and socially constructed spaces.  Sigh - this seems like a LOT of work and was wishing I had more students interested in reworking some of our other project options....Ding Ding Ding! Why should students have to wait on me to make corrections/changes/revisions to our curriculum when trying to complete work?   They already have a lot of choice an input into the types of work they complete in class  - maybe it's time to turn the whole kit and kaboodle over to them!! Already, some students are coming up with innovative ideas of how to demonstrate their learning, we could all benefit by sharing those ideas in a public space.

I hope to share in the future how this new "student managed and generated curriculum" works out.  At this point it sounds pretty awesome to me.  My current plan is to post the curricular pages in wikispaces where all of our students have read/write access.  I keep most of the wiki private but can make the curriculum pages "viewable" to the public so that parents and other teachers can get an idea of what we are doing.  Thanks to the "history" feature and RSS, I (and the students) can be notified when changes happen to these pages and if a mistake happens, we can always revert to an earlier version. Wish us luck on our new adventure!  I'll post a link when my first student gets her work online.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So Much Time, So Little Change...

I started this blog about two years ago, posted a number of "articles" throughout the summer and then pretty much ignored it until now.  As I went through my old posts, I came across this one, talking about the value of having students do "original" work rather than everyone repeating the same assignment at the same time.  Here I am, still trying to convince myself that this is an important and worthy goal - or maybe a possible task.  In reading Beach, Anson, Breuch and Swiss's book Teaching Writing Using Blogs, Wikis and other Digital Tools, this idea is back with a vengeance at a time when I should be dreaming about what shoes to wear on my Michigan summer beercation.  Beach and friends propose that using digital tools is an important part of our students' education and in particular, students' writing and "production" of knowledge.  We need to not only be incorporating digital tools as a way to access information, but as a way to gather appropriate sources, organize, plan, collaborate, and produce works. 

Why are all of my students writing answers to the same basic questions about urban planning, for example, when we could be building a fantastic resource for others that looks at innovative strategies to solve problems in our urban spaces?  I admit to trying to "translate" some of my old fashioned assignments into something more collaborative and worthwhile at some point, but mundane classroom management tended to get in the way.  How will I assess everyone's contributions if they are working in groups?  (Well, wikis do keep track of all entries so it isn't really too hard to check who added what.) How can I ensure that my students bothered to read the source material to gain the basic background knowlege they need to move forward?  (Students' new writing should show me their basic understandings if they are writing on more advanced topics and/or there could be other cool ways to accomplish this task, perhaps through gaming software.) What if we run out of stuff to write about on the topic?  (Umm...will we really run out?  Then maybe its time to learn something new!) What will the next period's kids do?
(Build on what's there or create something else, I suppose.) I appreciate that these seem like simple problems to solve if I could apply a little creativity to them, but the reality is, no matter how much we love our jobs, teaching has a mighty big to-do list and honestly, doing new stuff is hard.  And dragging our students who have learned to love worksheets because they require no thinking into a "real" activity is yet another expense of energy I may not be up to this week.  There, I said it.  Now what I need is someone to tell me to suck it up, help me solve the stupid stuff and my students will have a better, more engaging and more challenging assignment. Hmmmm....and for tomorrow?

To learn more about some of the cool ideas shared in the Teaching Writing book - go to the wiki!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Do Schools = Learning?

When students come into my class for the first time, I ask them to fill out a brief questionnaire about learning. Asking twelve year olds to reflect on the ways in which they learn best is a challenging task for both teacher and student. Why is this? I don’t think many students have been asked to reflect upon their own learning – or not enough so that this is a comfortable space to occupy inside their own heads. To assist in the process of getting students to think about learning, we have a conversation. I ask them to consider what might be their best learning experience and to describe it. Nothing. I get blank looks. A student raises his hand. “You mean like our favorite subject?” Okay, I think, an opening. “Well, what is your favorite subject?” I ask. “Math, definitely math.” “And why is that your favorite?” I probe further. “We don’t write much in math.” Sigh.

That says a lot, I think. We define what we like based on what it isn’t. More importantly, after eight years of conversations like these with students, I have realized how school has sucked all the fun out of learning and is therefore made irrelevant. I would also argue that my gifted kids aren’t learning much in school at all. Most of what they learn is through a pursuit of the things they love to do. And really, isn’t that true for all of us?

After my first experience with the learning questionnaire, I learned to help students to “situate” their experiences in order to get an answer to what their best learning experience has been. The example I use? Learning to ride a bike. In my school’s community, this is a common enough rite of passage to make the idea of learning more concrete for kids. I point out that all of our most valuable learning experiences have some important qualities in common. We wanted to learn the new skill or knowledge first. We had desire to accomplish a specific goal. Support from a more experienced mentor helped us to build and refine our knowledge or skill. Practice helped us to get better. We probably experienced a strong feeling of satisfaction once we reached our goal. While school may be capable of providing some of these conditions for some students, the distance between what students desire to learn and actual content covered in classrooms increases exponentially as curriculum is shoved at them at an alarming pace, devoid of context or importance outside of the culture of school.

The writings of Gee align well with my observations with my own students. He writes about the disconnect between learning and schools and gives examples of how certain students, those seen as unsuccessful in school, are accomplishing amazingly complex mental tasks outside of school through the playing of games. The idea of situated cognition as explained in Gee’s A Situated Sociocultural Approach to Literacy and Technology, states that “thinking is tied to people’s experiences of goal-oriented action in the material and social world” (p. 7). When schools approach the teaching of information in discrete units which seem unrelated to one another, students have trouble using their own experience to identify patterns and to make connections. Problem-solving can’t happen without identifying a pattern or connecting to our previous experiences. The interesting bit is that we don’t all see the same patterns, even in situations with which we are familiar. “What determines what experiences a person has and how they pay attention to the elements of these experiences is their participation in the practices of various social and cultural groups” (p. 10). My example of learning to ride a bike as a valid way to show the qualities contributing to a positive learning experience wouldn’t work in all communities or with all students. Schools make hegemonic assumptions and choices in delivering curriculum based on the dominant “white culture”. As a growing percentage of the school population is outside of the “white culture,” it becomes increasingly important to find ways to disrupt current practices which discount the “funds of knowledge” that our students bring to school (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).

By ignoring or demoting the importance of digital literacies, we are not preparing students to be critical and reflective about the media they consume, to participate as generators of content, or to understand how to operate in a more flexible group, distributed leadership environment. Outside of school, some of our students are recognized as experts in the digital realm. These same students are not valued for the expertise and knowledge they bring to school since it is not recognized as “traditional knowledge” (Gee, 2009).

Gee brings up interesting questions about how schools should incorporate these new literacies to combat traditional issues with learning. As students make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” many succumb to the “fourth-grade slump”. Gee thinks that the emphasis on decoding and literal comprehension works against the idea of our brains as pattern identifiers, generalizers, and rule appliers. In short, students lack the experiences and context to make sense of the texts in content area classes such as science, math and social studies. We need for students to be prepared to handle “increasingly complex language” (Gee, 2009, p. 18) through oral language development in a specialist or academic sense. Conversations around children’s “islands of expertise” can help to expand and deepen specialist language to better prepare them to participate in school academics.

Popular culture is one of the areas in which students develop these “islands of expertise.” This link can help provide the context and connection with school academics. Gee’s proposal is to stress “knowledge as tied to activity and experiences in the world before knowledge as facts and information and knowledge as situated as opposed to verbal understandings” (p.33). Considering how we currently “do school” we are not truly organized to support how people best learn new knowledge and skills. Perhaps if school were more like learning to ride a bike or playing a game, immersed in the concreteness of doing rather than beginning with abstractions, we would be surprised at the kinds of problem solvers and academics we could create. Ultimately, schools will need to do a better job of learning about and connecting with their students if we hope to create an educated populace.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research in the next generation (Practitioners’ inquiry). New York: Teachers College Press.

Gee, J. P. (2009). A situated sociocultural approach to literacy and technology. Retrieved 04/23, 2011, from A Situated Sociocultural Approach to Literacy and Technology.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fight for Your (copy)Right?

There's no doubt that new technologies bring new opportunities - some good, some not so good.  When it comes to how to manage laws like copyright in the world of digital content, it seemed to get a whole lot more complicated.  As a good digital citizen, I want to make sure people get credit for their creations and, when appropriate, I feel that I should pay for the media I use.  Amazon and iTunes have made it easier for people to be law abiding in terms of music, movie and other digital downloads but there is still a lot of hubbub about those who download media content for free or share with friends.  At the same time, digital rights management can get in the way of my using my media in the ways that are meaningful to me - and limit how I can use what I've purchased or rented.  There are always work-arounds, but I don't have that kind of time or patience.  HBO's move to allow subscribers to get to their shows on e-devices is a move in the right direction - especially as I was considering canceling my service.  Ultimately, media giants are going to have to reach a balance between pay per view and keeping a viable customer base - because at some point, it will be worth my time and money to cancel my cable and find other ways to watch the one or two series on each premium cable channel I'm interested in...

The Creative Commons movement is a great one, allowing artists and authors to share their works and decide how their content can be viewed, remixed and republished. Creative commons licenses are more flexible than traditional copyright and seem to be a better fit with the digital age.  In reading today, however, I came across an article about copyright for bloggers.  Considering I have all of two followers on my blog, you would think I would be thrilled to have anyone read a post I have written.  I'm not trying to make a living at this, though...and traditional copyright (and common courtesy) tells me that I should link to others' content and give credit for others' work. Content scrapers or autoblogging tools lift sections or whole posts from blog sites and pull them together into other pages via RSS.  This is an illegal practice.  Sure, it brings more readers, but works around the fact that if you produced the content, it shouldn't be able to be reproduced someplace else without your knowledge.  As copyright becomes muddier with the introduction and use of new tech, where should the new lines be drawn? As a teacher, I am all about the sharing - but at some point, I want to be giving back to the community - to people, not random blog sucking apps.  In light of this point, I want to thank @coolcatteacher (Vicky Davis) who passes along great stuff on Twitter that makes me think.

And another GREAT article on copyright and comic books - Will iPad Be the Hero or the Villain of the Comic Book Industry?  Michael Grothaus does a great job of explaining how cost and availability to legit downloads affects whether people "do the right thing".

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's 'Memes' Got to Do With It?

(got to do with it?)

So I'm taking this grad class on The New Literacies. As you might assume, part of the definition has to do with how technology has changed how we think about "literacy". The second part of the definition has to do with how knowledge is socially constructed. A main characteristic of Web 2.0 includes users contributing to a community or "affinity space" (Gee, 2004). Today's students are deeply engaged in these communities. Those of us born before Apple was considered more than simply something to keep the doctor away, probably think that all this time spent in front of a screen will bring the downfall of our society....or at least drain off some serious IQ points of students in our schools. Others would argue that the type of knowledge required to be a part of the online community, whether through gaming, facebooking, blogging, fan-fiction, adbusting or any number of other "spaces" is more complex and rich environment for knowledge development, production, and for developing new literacies. It's the unique combination of social participation and validation paired with informal, interest driven learning that keeps those of us taking part, plugged in.

My most recent reading of Lankshear and Knoble's New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning focused on "memes". The idea of memetics (think pop culture meets genetics) has been around for a while. Richard Dawkins, a geneticist, (not to be confused with Richard Dawson) coined the term in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He proposed that cultural development and change, similar to genetic evolution, is based on the "replication of ideas, knowledge and other cultural information through imitation and transfer. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2009)"

While memes have been around, they, themselves are now memetic (does that make them metamemes?) thanks to the Internet. C'mon, you know what I'm talking about. Chuck Norris 'facts', StarWars Kid, and who can forget Charlie, Bit My Finger? I think it's time to ask yourself, what's my internet meme knowledge quotient? Are you a meme voyeur? Only looking at the links sent in email and posted on facebook? Or are you an active community participant? The one who calls the meme before it happens? Perhaps even creating your own next internet sensation? The next time you get RickRolled, consider what characteristics qualify the latest online fad into an authentic part of our cultural universe. Yes, there's a rubric, folks. Apparently, Lankshear and Knobel have spent a good bit of time thinking about this and their yardstick consists of the following:

Fidelity - Does the meme stay more or less "intact" through copying - think 'telephone', as in your message should be understandable after it makes it through the circle of 2nd graders.
Fecundity - How quickly is the meme spread?
Longevity - How long does the meme stay alive? (Umm ...did you know that the Nigerian letter scam generates more losses per victim per year than identity theft (di Jasto & Stein, 2002, as referenced in Lankshear & Knobel, 2009)?)

Beyond these benchmarks, memes have been grouped by referential system, social relationships, ideological system, and social affinities. Additionally, the authors found that the memes which scored highest on their rubric had characteristics in common such as humor (of the quirky and/or satiric varieties) , rich intertextuality (who doesn't love a great cross reference?), and anomalous juxtaposition (my favorite - strange bedfellows) and I know that at this point, you are wondering how this class made it into my program of studies...

Ultimately, all learning and experience gets filtered through my teacher lens and I am left wondering how to capitalize on being "in" on the memetic joke of the day can be parlayed into an educational moment for my students. What can be learned based on how this community interacts? How can students contribute to this community (or are they already)? How can they produce commentary on society in clever and interesting ways? How might they counter negative memes through humor and "antimeming"?

The point of the book is that kids are living a whole life of literacy that School chooses to ban from its premises entirely. Should we be surprised that kids in school seem checked out when their preferred forms of communication don't count as knowledge? This is not to say that we should spend all day in classrooms looking at LOLCats or reading random blog postings. It is to say that teachers would be well served to learn more about their students and this includes what their students do in their free time. Opportunities for building bridges between popular culture and school culture exist. The savvy educator knows that using any and all opportunities to draw students in can be valuable if she knows how to make connections between the written curriculum and the 'real' virtual world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

21st Century Classroom?

So I read an article online today - found in my twitterstream about asking what it take to be a 21st century learner. There was a video created by Archbishop Ryan High School in Pennsylvania that was well done - but as an educator striving to provide best uses of technology for my students, I was underwhelmed. In sharing the video with my middle school students, they liked it because in many of their classes, they are using a number of the tools mentioned, some of which I would classify as Web 2.0 and others, not so much. They are using the tools, because they are assigned...when I asked how many of them were using Google Docs, online calendars, online math text books, Glogster, online discussion tools, wikis or blogs, without teacher prompting, the answer was "not really..." We will have 21st Century Classrooms when we have one to one technology AND when students are using these tools to organize, learn and socialize as a matter of course. I was surprised that when I started asking questions, none of my students said we should include facebook or gaming as a part of school. They see the divide between home and school perhaps even more that their teachers and parents do. As schools become further and further removed from the lived experiences of the children they serve, when do they cease to be relevant in our society? My fear is that for some of our students it may have already occurred.

Monday, April 18, 2011

See Saw Classroom

I don't know about all teachers, but I feel like I am constantly searching for the right equilibrium in my own little classroom. I was reminded of how delicate the balance can be today as I showed my students the calendar to illustrate how many weeks they had left to complete their projects before final presentations. The look of horror on some students' faces leads me to believe that perhaps I neglected to match my level of support to the point at which my current students are learning to manage their own time to complete complex, long term work. Of course, I am assuming that the scary scared looks were due to the limited amount of time available rather that the dread of spending six more weeks in my class ;).

I've tried making the entire class keep a variety of calendars, to do lists, and project organizers. Lots of moans and groans and time spent tracking down the organizer, long after the work it was supposed to organize was turned in. Ultimately, it seems that each student has his or her preferred way of doing things and my role, then, should be to help those without a way....or without a way that actually works. Online tools offer great promise but due to their lack of physicality, can get forgotten if only used for a single class out of the seven on their list. I'm always tinkering with new options and the level at which they are "enforced" rather than permitted as choices.

Until we get beyond this artificial world of class periods, school days, quarters, semesters and grades, I suppose all of us can benefit from some type of organizational scheme that works. I'm curious if others of you out there have found some cool e-gadgets or software to organize your students or children?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

So Much for THAT Idea

Yeah, looking at my last post - from 2 years ago....awesome.

Even while confronted by multiple examples and opportunities of why writing and in particular, blogging is important, I seem to have trouble getting it done. I am not a creature of habit - unless I can count bad ones. I need a schedule so I have something to deviate from...

Well, all that aside, I've come across yet more literature and another opportunity to help incentivise my writing informally on a more formal basis. In my coursework, I have been reading about how writing not only helps us to process our learning, ourselves and the world around us, it actually helps us to retell and reinvent our own stories - to ourselves, and if shared with others, them too. Such a powerful idea. Not sure if writing more is just flirting with disaster. What if I invent myself into someone worse? Have you read about Thursday Next? Very meta.

The real interesting implication of the power of writing and of language in general is the way in which we interact with our students. How are we helping children and adolescents to navigate their world, form their own identities and could writing help with that task? More importantly, as teachers, how will we choose to respond, support and encourage our students as writers? How does technology come into play when our students have access to tools that are banned in schools? Who is there to model positive uses of online tools? In my own mind, I'm a secret undercover change agent for helping to remake the educational institution into something relevant, something capable of actually producing thinking, productive world citizens ready to create changes of their own. Yeah, you can see how well THAT's going.

Laidlaw, L. (1998). Finding "real" lives: Writing and identity Language Arts, 75(2), 126-131.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd ed.) Open University Press.