Monthly Archives: September 2008

A picture’s worth a thousand words

I found ‘A picture’s worth’ on the Learning technology teacher development blog. it’s a wonderful collective version of people’s stories behind their own photos – even more interesting as a kaleidoscopic collection. Starting as a personal project, ‘A picture’s worth’ has developed into a pictorial record of varied experiences and reflections. Submissions of photos and text between 300 and 1000 words are moderated, and copyright for photos and essay remains with the author.

Some authors will include website links, and a map showing where the photo adds to the authenticity of the story. I like this idea for the classroom. Rather than write the usual story about a personal photo, students can showcase to a peer audience, and the shared stories could trigger ideas. It’s always interesting to see what subject matter is chosen and for what reason. Here’s an example of someone who loves photographing little forgotten theatres. Some of these stories are more intimate than others. Here’s an intimate, emotional one about a family coping with a dying grandmother. Here’s a confronting, brave one about abuse called ‘Bruised twice’.

The picture inserted in this post is of my church in Brunswick, Melbourne, on Merri Creek, although it could well be in Russia. This church building houses many stories, from its inception which remained a dream for many decades, including the efforts of many people, some of whom never saw the completed project, to the present day. And it will be connected to many different families and individuals in years to come.

The picture below is the inside of the church looking up at the cupol.

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The Sorted Book Project

Here’s a creative and amusing idea – The Sorted Book Project which has run since 1993 in various locations all over the world. The idea is to take books out of a collection, then select titles and organise them in a particular order so that the titles ‘tell a story’ in sequence.

‘The clusters from each sorting aim to examine that particular library’s focus, idiosyncracies, and inconsistencies’.

I think that’s a fancy way of saying, let’s have some fun with book titles. I can see a Book Week activity here.

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What are we telling our students?

I found this on Rob Jacobs’ blog.

What does this tell us as educators?

Think before you speak negatively or label a student. Try to find the best in the student. Encourage students to run with their passions, to have a go, to accept difficulties as challenges, to chill out.

We all ‘fail’ at something sometime. If we help students view their ‘failures’ as opportunities for growth, they’re learning the most important lessons in life. Learning from mistakes – you learn to think/approach things differently, to persist, to empathise with strugglers; you move forward, after a while you realise that’s the path we follow if we walk the path.

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Kids to tell schools what to teach

Calling all students! Edutopia has created a competition asking students to express their opinions about which skills they think their school should teach to help them succeed in life. Recognising young people’s expertise in technology, Edutopia has asked them to submit their opinions in the form of a 60 second video.

The competition closes October 15, and favourites will be published. There is no prescribed format for the answer to the question: ‘What do you think is the most important skill to learn for your future and why?’ – only that it is posted on YouTube and tagged ‘edutopiaskills’. Kids require proof of parental consent and must provide parental contact information. I’m puzzled about the choice to use YouTube, considering that YouTube is blocked by many schools.

I’d really like somebody to supplement this with adults’ guesses about what the kids would say. I’m not sure if I would be able say with any certainty how kids would answer this question, or how they would present it. Would it involve technology, social skills, financial know-how, health issues, emotional intelligence, practical knowledge, or??? I’m hoping that many kids would find transferrable skills and experiences the most valuable. I can’t wait to see the results.

What about learning that would be considered as a waste of time at school? Some might say that their whole school education was a waste of time. Most would isolate learning that they found unengaging or irrelevant. I could certainly make an extensive list of learning that screamed irrelevance: having to look up statistical facts about yawningly boring facts in a Victorian year book; sheep and sewerage; other things that I’ve successfully wiped out of my memory bank.

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Art Education 2.0

Art Education 2.0 is a global community of art educators exploring uses of new technology.

Art Education 2.0 is for art educators at all levels who are interested in using digital technologies to enhance and transform art teaching and learning experiences. The aim of Art Education 2.0 is to explore ways of using technology to promote effective art education practices, encourage cultural exchanges and joint creative work, and support artistic projects, curricular activities, and professional development opportunities deemed important by our members.

When you sign up, you can avail yourself of all the usual socialnetworking options, for example, you can invite friends, upload photos or videos, or start a discussion. At a glance from the homepage you can see current projects, forum discussions and recent blog posts. The format is well organised and easy to read, eg. the post ‘Sir Ken Robinson & creative thinking’ , a post about Ken Robinson’s well-known TED talk, ‘Are schools killing creativity?’, is followed by several clearly displayed comments. I suppose, what I’m trying to say, is that it’s all there, and it’s easy and enjoyable to browse. A late night for me recently while I explored the blogroll – always dangerous to jump into hyperlinks, branching out evermore into oblivion.

New Web 2.0 resources in the right-hand navigation offer such delicacies as Andrew Douch’s video on the benefits of podcasting; Vizu, an interactive poll that can be added to a website or blog; 12 seconds, where you can record and share short videos about what you’re doing or where you are, etc.

On the left, there’s a chat option, featured websites, an option to share photos or videos, a section with a blog called ‘educational paradigms’, which includes posts such as ‘Keeping your teaching experiences fresh’, ArtsJournal , where you can check out daily art news, and more. You can also join groups, such as ‘first year art teachers’, or ‘Voicethread in the artroom’.

Digital art is popular with students, and teachers can get support for this by joining ‘Digital design’ . ‘Teaching animation’ supports teachers in a discussion of ideas, strategies, and tools for teaching animation.

I’ll definitely be telling my art faculty about this supportive art community. Makes me want to be an art educator!

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Can intelligent literature survive in the digital age?

The Independent featured an article with this poignant question – can intelligent literature survive in the digital age? As the article says, ‘Is the paper-and-ink book heading the way of the papyrus scroll?’ This is indeed a question worth devoting more than a couple of minutes to.

The crucial question is – whether all our online reading – the fragmented, stylistically-challenged emails and microblogging – has taken its toll on our attention span? Nicholas Carr of ‘Is Google making us stupid?’ fame has added to the debate by claiming that the internet is responsible for his downward spiral in longterm concentration: ‘Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.’

Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, claims he used to be a voracious reader, but has now stopped reading books altogether. Is the internet to blame? Other people quoted in this article admit that they are now unable to concentrate on more than a couple of paragraphs at a time, and that they skim read, rather than read and think deeply.

A recently published study of online research habits , conducted by scholars from University College London’ claims the following:

‘It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.’ Still, the article does maintain that we are reading more now than when television was the preferred (only?) medium. Personally, I find it difficult not to skip around when links abound and I’m torn between too many tantalising directions.

Carr supports this behaviour with the following observation:
‘When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.’

But is this fear of change typical of the fear each generation experiences?
‘In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.’ That may be so, but in today’s ‘information age’, it would be foolish to try to carry all the knowledge we read inside our heads, especially when access is so easy.

If the internet and Google are wired for quick knowledge-access, then surely, we realise that we don’t just read for knowledge. We read fiction, for example, as we regard art, to enter into a transformed, deeper(?) reality; to savour language and perceptions; to gain insight into the human condition; to gain moral, social and philosophical truths; to experience many things besides.
Are we losing/have we lost something in our move to 21st century literacies? Is it a matter of a lost language or genetic traces that will never be repaired? Even avid readers will necessarily read less traditional, hard-copy literature, if only because they are also keeping up with blogs, wikis and RSS feeds? Are we becoming ‘pancake people’, as the playwright, Richard Foreman, suggests?

Now, according to The Independent, many serious writers complain that challenging fiction doesn’t appeal – “difficult” novels don’t sell. To sell now, ‘books evidently need to be big on plot and incident, short on interior monologue.’ What are the consequences for teachers and librarians, trying to encourage young people to read? Are we trying to keep grandma alive? And besides, if we admit it, our own reading patterns are changing to some extent. And yet, websites that give exposure to books can only increase readership. Just think about all the literature you might be tempted to read after reading somebody’s passionate review or after searching Google Book Search.

If only you had the time or could get off the internet!

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My sister’s art in red, white and black

Just testing to see if I can insert multiple pictures; thought I’d try my sister’s art.

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Back to Wordle

Further to my previous posts about Wordle (here, here, and here), I discovered in Box of Tricks excellent uses of Wordle by different teachers. One teacher used Wordle for a pre-reading strategy, and made two wordles from two different newspaper articles on the theme they were studying. Each student, armed with dictionaries, had to guess the gist of one of the two, then explain to the other student what they thought the article was about. The teacher supplemented this with further vocabulary discussion, displaying the Wordle on the interactive whiteboard. Finally, students looked at the full-text articles. The teacher saw the value of Wordle, ‘not only as a text analysis tool, but also as a tool to elicit speaking and creative writing’.

A class of 5-7 year olds used Wordle as a visual voting tool. They brainstormed a list of words following an excursion, then voted on the ones they felt were most significant. The size of the most popular words was very obvious in the Wordle.

Wordle has been discovered to be useful in different areas of the curriculum, eg. Visual art, Maths (representing data), English (vocabulary and spelling), brainstorming a topic or theme as an introduction or reflection tool, and eLearning/ICT (presenting information).

Some excellent pedagogical reasons for using Wordle were raised:
– Wordle’s visual attractiveness can make a dull text analysis task more attractive, motivating students to complete the task;
– By capturing the gist of a text, it helps pupils focus on the vocabulary, register and grammar in a simple and engaging way;
– its electronic form enables it to be adapted to different media, eg. paper, blogs, interactive whiteboards, etc.

Nick Peachey, on his blog, outlined how Wordle is useful for language teachers:
Revision of texts: students could look at the Wordle and try to remember and reconstruct the text;
Students can make predictions based on the Wordle of the text they are about to study; they could check the meaning of vocabulary before reading the text;
a Wordle could be a prompt for reconstruction of a dialogue;
Students could examine a Wordle made from a short poem, and write a poem of their own from the Wordle, then compare their poem with the original;
A Wordle could be made from different text genres, and students could guess the genre and give reasons for their decision;
Wordles could be made from different poems, and students could guess the poet from the Wordle;
Students could make Wordles from a text they write introducing themselves to the class; these could be displayed, and students could try to guess the person from the Wordle; or they could exchange Wordles and use them to introduce each other;
A research topic could be introduced by a Wordle, and students’ pre-knowledge could be tested by asking how they think the word is related to the topic; after further research is carried out, the Wordle could be used as a prompt for an oral presentation;
Wordles based on topics to be studied could be displayed at home for revision of vocabulary;

Above all, most teachers really appreciated the simplicity and versatility of Wordle. I’m amazed at the number of pedagogical uses people have discovered for this simple, attractive tool.

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What skills, what intelligence, what’s important

I’m having trouble embedding the video, so here’s the link to Daniel Goreman’s talk about emotional intelligence: http://www.edutopia.org/daniel-goleman-sel-video
I’ve been mulling over what 21st century learning is, and why we need to change our understanding and approach to teaching and learning, as well as how to explain it to teachers and parents in a way that will create a lightbulb moment for them. Here’s what’s been going around in my head:

Alvin Toffler, in Rethinking the future, said the following: ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn’. Keywords: change, flexibility, skills-focus as opposed to content-focus.

I found in Edutopia a video where Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional intelligence, speaks about the value of social and emotional learning. He talks about the need to get over our fixation with academic achievement and reminds us that we are educating the whole child. He calls for a shift towards helping kids become more self-aware, and being able to make good social decisions. These are social-emotional skills – getting on with others, managing anger and impulses – the skills that form the basis for a better world.

In her video presentation for the Learning 2.008 Shanghai Conference, Sheryl Nussbaum spoke about change happening extremely fast in our world, and suggested ways to manage that change as teachers. She quoted those famous statistics (can we verify those anywhere?) that by 2010 knowledge will double every 72 hours. That makes the focus on content mastery, which is still the main focus of our teaching in schools, a misguided one. Sheryl points out that our current system of schooling is based on the premise that knowledge is scarce, but since that is obviously no longer the case, this current system will not work, and will not prepare our students for the 21st century world. Sheryl advocates the teaching of Web 2.0 technologies to enable students to pursue meaningful, authentic, passionate scholarship, to connect them with global communities and allow collaboration in projects that have been chosen by students themselves because they mean something to them. Sheryl also speaks about 21st century education preparing students to become responsible and self-motivated citizens, getting out of the classroom and involved in real projects in life right now, not after they finish their schooling. This is something I feel was lacking in my own education, which prepared me for expert knowledge of certain areas (which I’ve largely now forgotten), but not for the ‘afterlife’. I see many schools now offering more opportunities for students to take on positions of leadership, to get involved in community, environmental or social projects, to work in teams and learn to get on together, appreciating each other’s differences and unique talents. With global connections through new technologies, the stage is set to free students from traditional classroom practices, but this is not yet happening as quickly as it should.

As educators we have a responsibility to keep ourselves up to date with the way the world is headed, to connect with others instead of staying within the walls of our own classrooms or staff rooms; to notice what young people are doing and what they’re passionate about – to move, ourselves, even if we’re comfortable where we are, or tired. It’s not about us, whether we feel uncomfortable about the changing world – it’s about the students. We should continually ask ourselves: what kind of world are we preparing our students for?

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Blogging about blogging; and before you know it, I’m thinking about PLP

What do young people think about blogging? Let’s have a look; here’s what one 18 year old has to say. This one happens to be my son, but I don’t think that prevents him from representing his generation:

‘People no longer are just able to blog, but blogging is increasingly becoming accepted as a legitimate medium of information; albeit quite different to others. At the cost of the credibility associated with major news services and other more traditional ways of getting our information, a whole new world is opened up- of personal opinion, a perspective into the lives and experiences of others and original creativity. When subjective experience and opinion is sought over objective fact, blogging becomes a medium very difficult to beat.’

Here’s the recognition of the value of the input, not of academics or editors, but of people like any other people, all contributing to whatever kind of information is important to them. Here’s a preference for what people have to say about something, for collective advice by people who care about their interests.

Technical applications are seen as enabling more direct ways of communicating, showing, connecting.

‘Photographers can take photos of their home city or holidays and post them on Flickr, along with geotags (so that people may see exactly where the photos were taken); performing artists can upload audio or video recordings of themselves on services such as Youtube to increase their exposure; political commentators can by series of hyperlinks to other blogs and news services critically analyse current affairs and provide explanations, arguments and challenges to what is reported in traditional established media. All of these forms of expression can be directly embedded into blogs, providing an individual with a space in which to express themselves- in the case of writers, musicians, etc…, to publish their work for free (or close to it)!’

All in all, there’s a noticeable excitement about the possibilities and the connectedness; about the possibilities for the individual’s self-expression. But could you imagine a similar passion from a young person if asked to talk about the possibilities in school education? What do you think? Are students encouraged to become involved in socialnetworking for learning? Are they encouraged to use Web2.0 applications to present their ideas and opinions? What do you think?

With this in mind, I’m thinking ahead to my school’s involvement with the Powerful Learning Practice program, and looking forward to making a difference to the mindset and teaching habits of teachers (including my own). Jenny Luca posts about PLP from the Learning 2.008 Edubloggercon conference in Shanghai:

‘Why do I feel alright about where we are? Because we are at least being proactive and have ourselves involved in Powerful Learning Practice . We are going to be immersing our staff in a learning community, and community is going to be what drives change. It’s not a discussion about the latest Macbook Pro that is important. It is a discussion about the connective relationships our students can form and learn from that is going to be the tipping point for many of our schools.’

‘Connective relationships’ – this is what it’s about. Information becomes meaningful through our relationships with people. Learning becomes meaningful through connective relationships.

If you’d like to read more of the authentic, passionate literacy that springs from real interest and involvement, read the rest of this new blog.

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