Monthly Archives: June 2009

Wisdom from the periphery

As always, I’m amazed by the wisdom of the people who form my online network. My last post was written out of the frustration I was feeling when I was temporarily overwhelmed by a sense of isolation – it seemed to me that I was speaking a foreign language amongst many of those around me. It wasn’t long before I started to receive comments from other educators – intelligent, diverse and encouraging comments. My sense of isolation was short-lived. These people have become colleagues regardless of their geographical location. They have become valuable friends and colleagues, sharing their views based on experience and reflection. I feel inspired and supported by these people; thankyou to all of you.

I would recommend you read all the comments, and I’d like to take the opportunity to feature the last comment I’ve received so far, because it would be a shame to leave it buried. I admire Paul Stewart’s deep thinking, and I think he eloquently expresses what many of us can relate to:

A wonderful post. It’s a reminder that we’re not all on the same page. Teachers are an eclectic bunch, and this should be a good thing – I abhor homogeneity, as do kids – but I can appreciate your frustration that our differences result in division. Ironically, it is our diversity that should unite us – it’s what makes us interesting to our students.

That said, I find it difficult to understand how educators – people charged with the responsibility of extending our youth, could be so reluctant to understand the context in which today’s youth develop. These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

Now I don’t buy into the whole digital natives nonsense (now there’s a flawed concept that has got more mileage than it deserved) but I do believe it is the role of any educator to constantly seek out new ways to engage, stimulate and challenge their students. Educators should be provocative. They should be unsettling (but in a good way).

And students? Well, students should be constantly shedding their skin in a classroom. They should be pushed to embrace change by experiencing it.

Now of course, you don’t need to use technology every minute of a lesson to achieve such outcomes, but it puzzles me that some teachers can so easily dismiss the opportunities that lie in technology: the chance to produce rather than consume, the chance to collaborate across time and space, the chance to make a mark upon society without using a spray can. Technology gives students so many tools to analyse, design, produce and investigate and these should not be denied to kids simply because a teacher is unfamilar with such tools.

I added dumplings to a chicken curry I made the other day and one of my progeny stuck out his bottom lip and refused to eat. After much coaxing, he tried one, then two… Ten minutes later he stuck out his bowl for seconds. I was pleased but I wish it didn’t have to be so hard. It’s sometimes like that with teachers (and they do not have the defence of youth to excuse their reactions to new experiences).

Your post really made me think of how different people are. As I get older, I am increasingly aware that I am approaching a time when there will be fewer days in front of me than there are behind me, and that makes me want to pack in as many new experiences as possible. The thought of doing something the same way twice kind of depresses me. The thought of teaching the same lesson that I taught five years ago, ignoring all the incredible changes that have happened in the world, now that would lead to ennui so crippling, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

I don’t think you’re alone in getting frustrated in having to justify your position, but that’s the lot of innovative people. By pushing the boundaries, you (by definition) place yourself on the periphery. There will always be a need to supply justifications to employers (they have a right to ask) but I hope we can move to a place in education where the innovative and bold are not subject to the sort of scepticism you allude to in your post.

Thankyou for taking the time to reply so thoughtfully, Paul. This line made me sit up and take notice:

These teachers often see school as separate to the world outside, rather than an essential part of it.

How many of us have thought about whether what we do at school has anything to do with the outside world? That would make an interesting survey, don’t you think?

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology

Don’t bag technology – ask what it means first

I’ve been feeling discouraged lately in my conversations with people about education. Maybe I’ve been talking to a small sample of people, but I’m feeling really peeved at the moment (and it may be because of lack of sleep).

I’m not sure if the endless circular conversation – between those who see the value of technology in education and those who dont’ – is even worth the effort. Yes, I’m not in a very positive frame of mind currently. I don’t find I have the energy or patience to continue, but I still want to reflect on what the problem is.

It’s not a problem that centres on technology at all. It’s a problem that centres around the very human aspect of dialogue. Dialogue which depends on two (or more) people listening to each other and making a real effort to understand what the other person is saying.

I’m sick and tired of entering into a conversation where I’m asked to justify my belief that technology is an important aspect of transformed learning, learning that has to change with the times in order to prepare us all for the way the world works and the way it will work in our students’ future. Most of the time I find that I’m cornered into petty justification because the other person is coming from a personal conviction and will, at all costs, aim to knock me off my beliefs to prove an ultimately negative point. This is not a dialogue. Cornering someone so that they desperately try to stick up for their beliefs while ignoring the larger argument is not dialogue. It radically narrows the scope of information which would otherwise offer a larger, more informative picture.

An example:

Me: I believe that technology offers new possibilities in learning (*very aware that this is a broad and ambiguous statement which needs comprehensive explanation*)

Other: What’s all the hype about technology? Does it really teach ‘them’ anything? Or is it a just a gadget, the latest fad?

Me: Technology offers possibilities for creating and connecting with others.

Other: I know all about that. It’s been proven that kids no longer have personal skills because they are using technology too much.

Me: They are learning the skills of online interaction

Other: I read/saw on TV how dangerous online involvement is, and how it isolates kids, how it takes them into dangerous zones which their parents don’t know about, how bad it is.

Me: You have to look at the real evidence. The media is often one-sided and sensationalises a small part of the picture

Other: But I heard an interview about it and these people are reliable; this information is authoritative.

Me: There are many wonderful connections kids can make to the real world and real people outside the classroom to make learning relevant

Other: (confused look) What are they learning by talking to each other? Is there any academic value?

And then the conversation reverts back to All Things Negative in terms of Any Kind of Change with regard to What Is Considered Sacred about Education, and it’s Sacred because That’s The Way It Was, and That’s The Way It’s Always Been, so all of this new stuff is Bad. We should probably go back to Grammar and stay safe teaching Facts. Numbers, Dates. Like my own education where I studied the Victorian Year Book and copied out fascinating information about how much rainfall and wheat we had in Victoria in  a certain year (the one that had passed). Fascinating facts about sheep and sewerage, I’ll never forget that (except for the facts themselves).

Ok, so now you’ve fully realised how down I am about this argument. I just have to point out that the worst thing about that kind of ‘discussion’ is that you never end up saying what you want to say, but you end up sounding like a crazed evangelist, ready to die for your cause – and I hate that. I’m not a crazed evangelist, I have much more to say and show you if only you would listen. The problem is about listening and wanting to hear, not about technology itself. It’s an age-old problem of failure to listen.

If I had a chance to talk to the ‘other person’ without being pushed into a corner, I would question their negative association with the word ‘technology’. I think this is a wide-reaching association. Technology = computers, dangerous  online involvement, unhealthy focus on what is not real, and therefore what takes you away from real, people-to-people contact.

But technology is also TV. Do you watch TV? Does it stop you from going out of the house? (If so, then it’s your personal problem) Or does it offer a window into the world?

Do you use a telephone? Does it stop you from seeing your friends and family in person? Or does it offer you an opportunity to chat more often in between visits?

All technology!

Yes, it changes the way we live. Some of us held off getting a mobile phone in the early days (we didn’t need it? we’d lived without it), but now we can’t imagine going out without it? Good or bad? It’s something worth investigating more deeply. But it’s here to stay, and it’s technological capacities are growing fast. Change is difficult; some of us jump on the bandwagon and others yell insults at the bandwagon from afar. What we need to remember is that, like it or not, the way we function in the world is changing, and we would be wise to jump on so that we know what we’re dealing with. So that we know what kind of support and education we need to give our kids. So that they’re ready for their world. Are we thinking about this? Are we looking forward or backward?

This morning I followed a link posted by @scmorgan on Twitter which led me to an article on the Edutopia website:

Kids create and critique on social networks.

The first couple of paragraphs grabbed my attention.

In the common conception, kids plus social networking equals an online popularity contest conducted in grammar-free instant-messaging lingo — not exactly an educator’s dream world. But the Chicago-based Digital Youth Network, a digital-literacy program funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has tapped into the networking phenomenon to encourage creativity and learning.

The Digital Youth Network runs a private Web site called Remix World, which is modeled on popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

This ning works like Facebook where students can create a space (their page) which is their own style, and where they can post their work and receive feedback from their peers, take part in discussion, and give and receive constructive criticism. Sharing with the class (or other classes) is more engaging because they care more about what their peers have to say than what their teacher has to say, and they want to show what they can do. They develop confidence in themselves when they realise they can help out or contribute to a discussion. It’s all there for the class to see; their contribution amongst everyone else’s. They don’t remain invisible or unheard. They have a place, a voice, a unique style.

When students are motivated to create work that they share online, it ignites an independent learning cycle driven by their ideas and energized by responses from peers.

That’s the theory, but let’s hear it from the kids

Twelve-year-old Jalen (also the subject of an Edutopia video profile) is among those who’ve taken their work to a larger audience on YouTube and elsewhere. “I post online because I don’t want it to just be on my computer, where nobody can see it,” Jalen says of his work, which includes graphic art, videos (both remixed mash-ups and some using original footage), and computer games. “I get positive and negative feedback, but it helps me get better and better,” he says.

“One guy on YouTube told me it was a good video, but the timing was off,” he remembers of one project that got mixed feedback. “So I went back and edited it.”

The article also talks about another student who created his own social network. He didn’t follow a prescriptive set of teacher-created instructions.

“I didn’t learn from anywhere particularly,” Mosea says about creating his network. “I just experimented.”

Experts say that, even more than the digital world in general, collaborative Web 2.0 tools in particular can motivate self-directed learning.

Students creating and publishing online within their own community is the first step to compelling learning, but the deepest learning takes place in the commenting and conversation which follows:

“While the ability to publish and to share is powerful in and of itself, most of the learning occurs in the connections and conversation that occur after we publish,” argues education blogger Will Richardson

Of couse, this kind of learning is not automatic or without its problems. But this is where the teaching part of it comes in. Teacher support is more important than ever for these new experiences to be successful. It’s not a matter of handing over to technology, stepping back and expecting self-directed learning to naturally take place. Nothing could be further from the truth, as teachers who have worked with online networks have discovered.

Researcher Christine Greenhow cautions that the virtual world can also present its own barriers to independent learning. “Students can get easily distracted,” she observes. “There are so many nonlearning paths, so we need to help them stay focused.”

And there’s the rub. If those against technology think that kids just jump in and need no supervision, they’re wrong. Wherever kids are and whatever they do, they need supervision and support. As parents, we shouldn’t leave them to their online activities without taking a real interest in what’s going on – and I don’t mean looking over their shoulders with a critical eye. I mean engaging in conversation where we learn what they’re doing, and why they like doing it. Or even trying some of these things out ourselves. As teachers, we shouldn’t leave them with the laptop and Google, and expect them to navigate a positive and successful learning experience.

To finish, I apologize for my rave – I think it’s something I needed to get off my chest to reduce mounting frustration.

Finally, technology is about the people who use it. Let’s demystify it, let’s try to understand it before we judge it, let’s acknowledge that it’s increasingly the way the world functions, and learn how to make the most of it.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, internet, learning, network literacy, networking, parents, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Michael Jackson 1958-2009

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Today the world was saddened by the news of the two celebrity deaths – Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Celebrity popularity is a fact of life, and in this instance Michael Jackson stole the limelight, if you can call it that.  Sometimes the best way to remember a life and career is through pictures. LIFE Magazine is a good place to revisit Michael Jackson’s life.

Stars remember Michael Jackson is an interesting visual record.

Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

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Equally as interesting is the album of Michael Jackson covers.

MJcovers

Then there’s Neverland in all its glory

Neverland

Michael Jackson live – best pics

moreMJ

And, to be fair, have why don’t you stroll down Memory Lane with Farrah Fawcett?

farrah

Since I was on a roll, I decided to check out Michael Jackson’s website.

mjwebsite

 The New York Times has a long post of updates on Michael Jackson and the world’s reaction to his death.

 YouTube has its own tribute to Michael Jackson’s talent.

Given the recent interest in all things Vampire at a time when books like Twilight are more popular than sliced bread, I think it’s time to revisit Thriller.

 

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The old and the new

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I’ve been meaning to scan some old photos and pictures for a long time, and today I finally did. This picture lives inside one of two autograph books which belonged to my maternal grandmother. I love these books because they’re full of hand-drawn pictures and poetry. Some of the poetry is the typical verse which would have been popular as choices for autographs, and other poetry has been written especially for my grandmother. My grandmother was German but born in Russia, and lived there until she and her family fled to Germany during WWII. And so the entries are in Russian, German or Ukrainian.

The pages of these books contain history – dates, names, warm wishes and sincere words from people who were once young and are now long gone – but they are precious to me also for their lost art of handiwork.  There’s a thrill in being able to feel the paint on the page, to see the brushwork or ink, and think that somehow the traces of people long gone are kept alive within these pages.

Here’s a page from an illustrated poem written about a time when my grandmother’s father was separated from the family when he was working in Siberia. In this picture you can see my grandmother as a young girl, her mother holding her baby brother and her father rushing out to meet his family, happy to see them. And the whole story is written as poetry.  How special is this!

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Things have really changed since the times of these autograph books. Even the fact that I can scan, crop, save and upload these pictures demonstrates how technology has created possibilities. We may lament the fact that people don’t have the fine motor skills to draw as well as they used to, or the time or inclination to write poetry by hand, but we have different options for creativity. If students can’t draw, this doesn’t stop them from being able to create computer-generated art or animation. I love the fact that this generation is revisiting things from the past – art and music – and are remixing, reorganising, reinterpreting these in a new way. 

Here’s a Second Life animation take on Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child, by Lainy Voom. Andy Fisher found this for me; thanks!

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

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And remember, it’s about the kids

A little while ago I included a post with a video of a heart-warming song sung by 5th graders in New York.

Here’s another one you’ll enjoy

This choir is testament to one man’s relationship with a regular class of 5th graders in New York, it’s not a music school or selective school:

The PS22 Chorus was formed in the year 2000. We are an ever-changing group of 5th graders from a public elementary school in New York City, NOT a school for the arts or a magnet program.

Read about this teacher/musician and view more videos on his YouTube page.

The PS22 Chorus has a blog documenting their activities with lots more videos to watch.

Watching this video reminded me that it’s really all about the kids. At a time when teachers have been swamped with corrections and report writing, labouring over sentence structure and punctuation, categorising students into cleanly definable spaces, it’s good to remember that it’s really just about the kids themselves. When I look at what this teacher has brought out in these kids, I do a double-take and step back to reflect. How can I keep that important focus without getting side-tracked by the structures. I’d like to remember that the structures are there to support the kids, and not the kids to support the structures.

PS22choir

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Filed under creativity, Education, music, teachers

Don’t drop the Internet!

Well, we’re winding down at school with this week being the last in term 2. I’m thinking about all the things I’d like to explore in depth online, but at the same time, I’m hoping to enjoy interests that get shoved aside during the term.

It’s Sunday night and I thought I’d indulge in a light-hearted post, in anticipation of the term holidays. Here are two videos parodying the internet.

Web crash 2007 is a humorous parody of the causes and consequences of a major internet crash (which I can’t embed, unfortunately)

The IT Crowd is a favourite comedy show in our house. Here’s the episode when the IT guys manage to convince Jen that they’re handing over ‘The Internet’ to her.

The humour of these two videos rests in the mystery and awe which used to surround the internet. A little like how the old TV shows used to depict computers – either as robots or massive machines with flickering lights. I think that Web 2.0 technology is still viewed with varying degrees of mystery, although it’s usually not awe but a kind of negative or fearful reaction that is demonstrated. I suppose that it’s part of human nature to resist change, but I think that approaching something new with caution is a good thing, while criticising it without looking into it at all is not a good thing.

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Filed under humour, internet, technology, Web 2.0

Timelines and Twitter

Yesterday I was at a SLAV professional development session with the dynamic duo, Ross Todd and Carol Gordon – something I might write about in a later post (although I might not, considering Judith Way has taken copious notes and will no doubt do a brilliant write up in Bright Ideas – and she has). I was uncertain whether to take comprehensive notes or not, so that I could sit back and enjoy listening to and watching the speakers. I ended up splitting myself three ways – a solution to my indecision – and jotting down some things on paper, some in a word document and tweeting out interesting one-liners and links on Twitter.

Twitter is always so satisfying during conferences because while you’re sharing information and links, you’re getting immediate feedback from your network who are either retweeting or responding in some way.

At one point during the afternoon session while we were working on transforming an enquiry unit,  I tweeted out a request for online timelines, and unsurprisingly received 3 replies, so I thought I’d share them with you.

Paul Stewart shared a link to his blog post about Timeglider which used to be called Mnemograph. Interesting, the name change. The former does sound more ‘futuristic’ while the latter sounds like some kind of wondrous ancient machine housed in a museum.  Paul describes Timeglider in his post:

Mnemograph is a web-based timeline application. It can be used for a range of purposes. I attempted to chart the growth of Web 2.0 technologies. After a few minutes of initial confusion, I quickly found my way around and was throwing in images, text and hyperlinks with gay abandon. My first effort in Mnemograph is below. Additional information can be accessed by double-clicking items on the timeline. In this particular case, I have included links to original pages via the incredible Wayback Machine, a web archive of 85 billion webpages). I thought it appropriate to complement a timeline with the web’s most significant piece of temporal devotion.

I can’t seem to embed Paul’s example, so here’s the link. 

And here’s one of the examples given on the site:

timeglider

Martin Jorgensen shared this link to a post about Our Story, stories built with interactive timelines. Martin writes:

OurStory allows users to design a timeline using images and text. Stories built using this tool most often appear as sequences of events that lead to a conclusion. Some of the examples I’ve seen are simply one event leading to another, but others are more subtle.

Allison Kipta shared a link to Timeline. You can create a timeline or browse existing timelines which have been featured on the site.

timeline

What I love about shared resources which are housed in blogs is the opportunity to explore the blog and discover all the other resources and ideas by the authors. In this way, I’ve found Twitter an invaluable resource and opportunity to discover and connect with amazing people and their work.

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Filed under 21st century learning, networking, technology, Web 2.0