Time to Stop and Reflect

Harbor way by (davide), on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  (davide) 

For EC&I 831, my challenge was to create a digital project which would allow me to understand the potential uses of social media and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom while at the same time, be a useful product that could serve my school. As I am not a classroom teacher, but a school-based administrator, I wanted to create something that could benefit staff who were looking for information about these open source technologies. My decision was to create a Blog, Caught Up in the Web!  that  houses information on why the implementation of social media and web-based resources were useful, how and why to set up a bloghow to effectively comment on Blogs, the use of Twitter and Facebook in the classroom.

Originally I began building a website with the use of the free web building and hosting tool,  Weebly. This is a fantastic resource that is very user friendly and has a slick and professional look. However, like most websites it didn’t afford me the opportunity to provide regular posts and comments and I found it difficulty to embed certain sources without paying for an upgrade. I ultimately, abandoned the web in favour of a Word Press Blog which allowed my teachers to provide feedback regarding the usefulness or difficulties in accessing the suggested resources, as well as the success and challenges of using social media in the classroom.  I had also considered a Wiki, but I will admit I find the visual appearance of the free Wiki sites rather dated. In addition to creating my teacher Blog “Caught Up in the Web!” I also created a student/teacher Blog for use in my school called “Royal Subjects”, playing on the nickname of our athletic teams, the Royals.  This was as a result of a teacher inviting me into her ELA class to discuss Blogging. My plan is to continue to use this Blog in my work with classes on cyber bullying, school safety, drug and alcohol awareness and numerous other topics I address with small group discussions and class presentations. On this Blog I have created pages for students providing them information on digital citizenship and netiquette, tips for Blogging and commenting, similar to the pages on the teacher Blog but geared towards student use.

I have spent the last year attempting to broaden my understanding of Web 2.0 something I blogged about earlier and discussed in the following Xtranormal video:

A few short months ago I was still pondering on the impact of social media in the classroom, not totally convinced that the risks to privacy and the potential misuse of the medium outweighed the benefits. However, as a result of my experimentation with it and feedback I’m receiving from staff regarding its use, I think the potential rewards far outweight the risks. As I stated in an early post “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, oh Wow” – it is an exciting time to be an educator and I am anxiously looking forward to the future and my continuing journey with technology. If you missed last week’s post  “One journey ends, another begins” featuring a prezi chronicling my experiences in #eci831 – go back and take a look!

I have come along way, but most certainly is not the end destination, just a momentary stop. I plan on continuing this journey!

road to success... by paojus, on Flickr
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Weighing the Risks and Rewards of Social Networking

balance by hans s, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  hans s 

This week I had yet another colleague ask me if I truly thought letting kids use smart phones to text and tweet was really useful in learning, or just the newest fad in education – “much ado about nothing.” I remember well from where this colleague is coming. It wasn’t that long ago that I had the same reservations about the benefits of social networking tools in the classroom. Do the benefits really outweigh the costs and potential risks? Or, is this as my friend was intimating, another example of technology for technology’s sake and change for the sake of change without actually being constructive and productive innovation.

My response was to discuss my own metamorphosis from doubter, to believer and to tell him that as always, education requires us to balance new technologies for instruction with traditional instructional methods.  I directed him to a couple of great online resources that not only justify the use of social networking as sound constructivist pedagogy, but emphasize the need for a teacher’s purposeful planning,  creating the conditions in which a student can learn. The first was M.Madan’s post “Social Networking in the Classroom”  which effectively explores what social networking has to offer to learning: instant connection to promote sharing and collaboration in an constructivist pedagogy; and what social networking does not offer to learning: it does not ensure the development of a community of learning. To combat that he suggests a couple of important instructional considerations:
1. Maintain a constant presence.
2. Use a variety of supporting tools to process information.
3. Actively synthesize broadly scoped ideas into workable areas.
4. Continue to engage students.
The other great resource I found was an EmergingEdTech  post “7 Reasons to Leverage Social Networking in the Classroom”  which include engagement, social learning, better utilization of homework time and consequently class time, opportunities for writing, increased student dialogue, building of real-life communication skills, and connections.
However, as I suggested to another colleague a few weeks ago who said she really needed to get into Twitter, the best way to understand networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, is to use them yourself first. The best way I can think of to understand how you can use Twitter in your classroom is to let it be your classroom for a while. Start by using it to create a personal learning network for your own professional development. Sonja Cole suggests “25 Ways to Teach with Twitter”  with simple things like asking for recommended lessons and books, asking for professional advice, starting to tweet about resources that have been useful for you, inviting  followers and looking for people to follow.

I’m not sure if my resources convinced my colleague, but what it did to was challenge me to think outside the box and reaffirmed my belif in the value of social networking in student directed learning. Although there are risks in terms of privacy and professionalism, I belive that the risks outweigh the rewards. Thoughts?

Tell Me A Story…

Tell me a story… I used to beg my older sister  to tell me one more story before lights out. Maybe it was this insatiable thirst for narrative that prompted me to go into education and become an English teacher. Every day my classroom was a new page in a story – sometimes the story was of struggle, sometimes of triumph, and most times with undisclosed endings. You see, that is the thing about teaching, we never really see the conclusions to the threads of narrative we establish in class, those story stems that continue to grow and be shaped by our students on their knowledge journey and by us on ours.

This weeks presentation by Alan Levine got me thinking about story telling. In particular, how we encourage students to make sense of their learnings through creating and producing stories.  Often, it is in the process of trying to articulate the story when the most learning occurs. Sometimes it is the messiness of this scribblings and scrawlings that establish the necessary conflict before learning reaches some sort of resolution.

Alan Levine’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story  resource provides teachers and students with the opportunities to capture the essence of the story – the struggle and the plot twists as they grapple with their learning. I thought I would experiment a bit with my own story about how I now try to way find and make sense of how I teach and why I teach. This course has helped open a new world of Web 2.0 tools and extended my personal learning network. The addition of such antagonists has taken by educational story to a new plot and series of conflicts – I can’t wait to see where it leads me! See how I depicted my story through the use of ToonDoo .

From Dinosaurs to Dolphins: Technological Evolution in Education

Dinosaur by shvmoz, on Flickr
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After watching a recent episode of Terra Nova  my son observed “it would be so cool if there were still dinosaurs roaming around!”  Of course, my response was, really, you would like to be spending your days in flight or fight response avoiding man eating dinosaurs? He agreed that would likely be pretty scary, maybe it’s better to leave them to the museums and science fiction shows. This got me thinking, why are we so slow to evolve and discard those dinosaurs in our classrooms, the antiquated audio visual aids which do nothing but get our blood pressure up and are far better left in museums and history books? If biologists only focused on the past, they would never discover new and exciting biological species like the Barrunda Dolphin, discovered this fall off the coast of Australia. Last week in EC&I 831, Stephen Downes  talked about the need to become networked educators and consequently discover new  roles as a teacher. Such new roles as collector, curator, alchemist, need to be considered in the search for this new species of teacher.   Of course all of this is predicated on the discovery and utilization of  new technology tools in and out of the classoom.

Last week I stumbled upon I Love Ed Tech Blog  which is the Blog for the Simple K-12 website. It has some great posts including the June 2011 post “17 Signs Your Classroom is Behind the Times”.  Below are 6 of the 17 which particularly resonated with me:

  • Your students turn in their homework on printed paper…instead of digitally.  It’s hard to believe that I still have English teaching colleagues who are collecting hardcopies and not using digital submission tools such as Turn it In  which educate students on plagiarism, proper referencing, and provide peer editing and revision tips.
  • You still have chalk.  Or a Dry Eraser. It’s exciting for me, who just happens to be allergic to both chalk and the residue from dry erase, that tools like smart boards eliminate any sort of chemical exposure and reduce consumable expenditures in the school budget!
  •  You try to pull up a web resource on your computer to show the class and you receive a “This website has been blocked” message. As an administrator, I know which of my teachers are developing PLN’s – they are the ones coming to me to ask IT to unblock Youtube videos and Blogs – heck, last week I had to phone to get them to unblock the sample Blog I created for an ELA class!
  • You don’t find at least one thing to call the IT department about every week. See previous point!
  • You spend most of your class time lecturing students… rather than getting them collaborating and learning from each other. Arriving in the staffroom for coffebreak with a bad case of laryngitis often is a symptom of nagging educational disease “Sage on the Stageitis.”
  • You create more content than your students do. I often wonder why it is that so many of us as teachers are working harder than our students? No wonder our profession has trouble with teacher retention. We have do less and create more opportunities for our students to take charge of their learning.
  • Your students aren’t teaching you something new (likely about technology) at least once a day. My most connected teachers are the ones who frequently pop by my office to share an exciting technology tidbit just taught to them by a student which invigorates them and supports the learning of their students. Good things are happening in their classrooms.

So , I think maybe I would like another role added to Stephen Downes’ list, that of scientist. I want to discover new species of teachers and learners, my own Barrunda dolphins by encouraging my staff to embrace a blended instructional approach and discover some new habitats of education! It absolutely can happen – and if you need a little inspiration from the biological world, for your viewing enjoyment check out “Cool, Rare, and New Weird Animals/Species 2011.”

“Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow!”


Give, take ’n share by Funchye, on Flickr
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The last words uttered by Steve Jobs as revealed earlier this week by his sister, Mona Simpson, were “Oh Wow, Oh Wow, Oh Wow.” For a man who made computer technology personal and mainstream, revolutionizing how we share, process, and filter information;  it is hard to imagine he could be amazed by anything. Such is the mystery of death, but those last words from one of the most innovative thinkers of the modern era, reflect more than just the enigma of our existence. They articulate the unfathomable boundaries of possibilities, uplifting me with optimism.  I needed this optimism in a week where I found myself attending two separate funerals; a week in which people emailed and posted condolences to the families on Twitter and Facebook. It was a startling example of how technology quickly and efficiently brings people together; not in the cold, dystopian manner depicted by science fiction writers such as Bradbury and Asimov,  but in profound, authentic, and real-time connections. At one of the funerals, a close family member unable to travel home participated in the service via the web. And as he contributed to the eulogy from another continent, I thought “Wow” – how the celebration of that life was made the richer for the sharing.

This week Dean Shareski  challenged us as educators to consider sharing as a moral imperative, challenging us to ponder “is our best work accessible to everyone?”  My friend whose parent had died, told me he did not know anything about Skype or data projectors,  but that  a simply query on Facebook, a technology he does use, caused a flood of helpful tips: the donation of a data projector and the volunteer services of a “technician”, and a few instructive YouTube videos empowered him. As a result, his brother-in-law could share in the funeral of their mother.  A couple of weeks ago, two of the math teachers in my department created a smart board through the use of a Wii remote and IR pen. How were they able to accomplish this? A tutorial on YouTube. For too long, teachers have worked in isolation, sharing only with a small, trusted group of people. However, teaching has changed. It is arguably more difficult; curricula are more extensive, diversity among learners greater, and class sizes larger. If we don’t share, not only don’t we cope, we don’t accomplish our mandate as educators – nurturing learning through sharing and challenging the thoughts and practices of ourselves and others. So, this week I shared. I invited several of my staff members to look at my Blog, a far riskier venture with people you know, work with, and supposedly lead, than muttering to faceless audience on my Blog. I shared the beginnings of my Blog resource which allows them to discover various Web 2.0 tools; I offered to work with an ELA teacher and her students on Blogging; in fact, I created a new Blog for the students of my school to comment on timely issues concerning their curricula, community and world. Over the next few weeks and months, they will blog and I will invite them to tweet responses . I’m thinking of using the hash tag #Veeptweet! We’ll see how it goes. This is an exciting time to be an educator.  A world of information is literally in the palm of our hands – and I am at the point of no return! In the words of Steve Jobs, “Oh, Wow! Oh, wow! Oh, Wow!!”

Digging Deep into the Soil of Education

40+199 Dirty by bark, on Flickr
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I realize that the title of this Blog Post suggests that I feel that the fundamental structure of education is somehow tainted. That was not my original intent. I was actually grasping  for an agricultural metaphor, but oddly enough, while composing this post and mulling over my readings and research of the week, I realize that this unintentional connotation may not be that far off. We have a tendency in education to keep pouring fertilizer over the already fertile soil accomplishing nothing more than the burn out of the bright seeds, to rotatil the so-called “weeds” in an attempt to stifle them, and to prune and trim the promising growth so that it is uniform, orderly, and utterly predictable. – growth determined by finite school years and proscriptive curricula.  Is this what education is supposed to be about? Fueled by this week’s ECI 831 discussion on rhizomatic education led by Dave Cormier, and his recent Blog Post Workers, Soldiers, Nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system?, I mused over four  standard, static, and cliché answers to the very foundational question, why do we educate students?
To prepare them for the workplace?  How can we do that when we know that the jobs they will seek likely do not even exist yet (If you haven’t yet seen the Youtube video “Did You Know?”- check it out!).  Certainly, Dave Janosc argues in his podcast “Education for Innovation” that the critical skill in the 21st century business world is innovation . Are our schools in their current curricular focus and structure nurturing this?  Gever Tulley would argue that not only are schools not cultivating this, society in general has advocated the virtual bubble wrapping of kids, protecting them from danger to such an extent that their curiosity and creativity are squelched. Check out his TEDtalk presentation Do Schools Kill Creativity. Founder of the Tinkering School, Tulley, advocates letting kids do dangerous things such as playing with fire, owning pocketknives, playing with spears, deconstructing appliances and breaking copyrights. Although he is discussing this in a literal sense, he is also making a figurative point for educators. Do we encourage our students to make mistakes? Are we and they so focused on the test and the outcomes that we forget about the journey and the many possible paths on the way to that destination? Furthermore, does that test have to be the final destination?
To provide them with a liberal arts education so that they are prepared for university? Statistics according to Human Resources and Skills Canada  tell us that on average 24% of the national population ages 18-24 pursue a college education; and although that statistic has risen over the last several years, the successful completion of college degree programs is much lower. Sir Ken Robinson in his critique of education states that “we are obsessed with getting kids into college.” He argues that learning is about passion and all of us have important gifts which are rarely nurtured. Similar to Dave Cormier’s belief that educators need to be gardeners, Sir Ken Robinson advocates the transformation of education from an industrial model to an agricultural model stating that “human nourishing is organic”. We as teachers must provide the conditions under which our students can flourish.

To teach them citizenship and community responsibility? For what world and community are we providing them education on citizenship? Technology and the internet have made the world smaller. The community one lives in is not the only community one knows. As I muttered in last week’s blog post , we need to address digital citizenship in a global society, this cannot be done if we restrict internet access and limit or ban personal electronic devices in educational settings.

To teach them to be life long learners? As Cormier, Robinson, Tulley, and numerous others have posited, there needs to be a “rethink” around the whole concept of learning. Education, the institution, is not necessarily developing a community of learners. Cormier’s metaphor of the nomadic learner suggests that a learner will go to the places he/she needs to find the answers he/she seeks, refusing to be bound by a directed path. How do we reconcile the need to develop life long learning, nurture curiosity and cultivate and harvest the rhizomatic learners within our time bound and rigidly structured curricula and school design. How do we avoid streaming or to use a provincial categorization – pathways – which predetermine roads for learners, stripping them of nomadic adventures? To find this answer, we must dig deep into the soil of education, and prepare to to get our fingernails dirty.


Technology – The New Literacy of the 21st Century

Old New Media Readings by Krista76, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Krista76 
Funny , isn’t it? How serendipitous life can be?  Last week I was muttering about how to overcome the bias some teachers and most parents have regarding the use of social media as a blended instructional approach.  Well, this week one of my ethics teachers invited me into her classroom to discuss cyberbullying .   Apparently, she sees me as the resident expert on all things Facebook, BBM, and Twitter (considering my fledgling experience in this area, this is truly scary!!) This was hot on the heels of the previous week’s School Community Council’s Parent Night featuring a guest speaker addressing the very issue of bullying and social media. I suspect she was looking toward me to spell out the doom and gloom of Facebook and cel phones which would be a reasonable expectation, considering our school’s and school division’s rather strict policy regarding their usage – no cel phones in classrooms without teacher permission; Facebook is blocked for student and teacher use in our school. Instead, I came  to class armed with a multimedia assault – launched with clips featuring Dana Boyd , key quotes and media stats,  a TEDtalk video  arguing that social media actually builds intimacy as opposed to inoculating us from authentic relationships (a belief I held as recently as 6 months ago),  links to my Blog, the EC&I 831 Blog  and the subsequent Twitter  responses (Kids were wowed by Visible Tweets  which I had scrolling in the background),  I delivered what apparently was a surprising message to my students. Considering my recent pedagogical shift,  I have to say, it was a surprise to me also.  My  message? Embrace technology it is the literacy of the present and will if it does not already, define your world and frame your experiences. In addition, I chatted about Digital citizenship  and digital identity  – citizenship and identity are changing. As we use social media we must be aware of who has access to the information and how that information is being used. For students who are often unaware of digital footprints, this comes as a bit of a shock. The question is how do we best address changing citizenship and identity with our students in our existing curricula?  Should it be left up to the technology teachers? The ethics teachers? The humanites teachers? Do we earmark it at a certain grade level? Or, does the solution lie in all teachers adopting technological pedagogy which just as literacy pedagogy argued that all teachers, regardless of curricular expertise, were literacy teachers, all teachers are responsible for technological literacy. What are your thoughts?