Monthly Archives: July 2009

Still kicking.

Forty years ago astronaut Neil Armstrong did something no one had ever done before. On July 20, 1969, he set foot on the moon. We all know what he said when he stepped onto the moon’s surface and looked at the Earth above him: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Meanwhile, back on Earth 40 years later, some of us are still struggling with less cosmic achievements, like the Recurring External Blog Saga which you  may have read about here and here. Unlike Armstrong, and more like Prometheus, unable to move forward, having been chained to a rock by Zeus, my way forward with technology in my own school is often just too hard.

Jacob Jordaens, Der gefesselte Prometheus, c. 1640 Rheinisches Bildarchiv

This morning I received yet another email criticising my move to an external blog for reading promotion. Yes, I know you’ve heard all this before, but imagine how I feel then. I’m definitely over it. Nevertheless, for every attempt to drag me back, to find fault with what I do, there are encouraging moments.

Today several things happened that demonstrated the advantages of the Web 2.o platform for things like reading promotion. Firstly, a student had posted a passionate review of the recent Harry Potter movie. I had only just posted that late last night, and already this morning there was an encouraging comment from Marita Thomson, a teacher librarian from The Kings, Parramatta. I know I was pleased to receive positive feedback, so I imagine the student was even more pleased. But wait, there’s more. Two more encouraging comments – one from Sean Nash and another from Paul Stewart. Here, let me show you.

fictionblogcomments

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – sharing online opens up communication and possibilities. It’s encouraging and enriching. I really don’t get why people don’t get it.

So, while my Web 2.0 colleagues and I are moving forward slowly, I hope our small steps are paving the way for a more comprehensive change of mindset in the future, in which case I could also say,

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Leave a comment

Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, debate, Education, networking, reading, technology, Web 2.0

Reflecting again (still)

Last post I wrote a reflection for the culmination of my participation in the  Powerful Learning Practice program. Still, I felt I hadn’t drilled down to what was essential for me.

Listening to Howard Rheingold this morning, and rethinking things, I wrote another reflection.

My participation in PLP has been life changing. I know it smacks of evangelical fervour, and I’ve often written about this in my blog, but PLP came just at the point that I was ready for it. I’d just completed SLAV 23 things, and started a blog. Everything was new to me. Nothing was easy, I wasn’t a natural, probably more of a technophobe than anything, but something pulled me in. Jenny Luca must have read my blog somehow, and emailed me about joining the PLP cohort of Australian schools. It all avalanched from there. Soon I was blogging, wikiing, ninging, twittering, flickering, and having a great time.

Thinking about it more seriously, I realize there’s a big discrepancy between my personal awakening to online participation and what I’ve been able to do in convincing other educators at my school or anywhere else about what I see as a crucial path we must take in order to make learning relevant and engaging for students. Yes, I’ve made steps, and for me, these steps have been significant. I’ve been reflecting and sharing knowledge and resources in this blog, I’ve explored the literacy possibilities with Flickr’s image sharing, I’ve supported English and Art faculties with wikis, I’ve created a blog to inspire reading in the community, I’ve been working on a ning as a platform for learning, collaborating with a wonderful English teacher, I’ve sent countless links and resources to teachers as a result of my own connection to my online network. But it’s not enough. It hasn’t moved a significant portion of my school, it hasn’t changed the way my principal thinks, or other the way faculty heads function. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate small victories, such as the approval for an external fiction blog (read here and here).  On the whole, though, it’s often resulted in friends, family, colleagues casting a critical eye or making derogatory comments, telling me to get off the computerand get a life. Basically, I haven’t convinced many people that what I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own time on is worth anything.

It has, however, connected me to a network of people who are my lifeline. People I otherwise wouldn’t have met or known about. People who are experts in different fields, who are brilliant, engaged, supportive. It has crossed borders, transcended nationality, age-group, ignored physical apprearance and status – it’s been fantastic. I agree with many great speakers I’ve listened to: it’s not about the technology tools, it’s about literacies. Our students need critical thinking to navigate the flood of information and media that comes their way. They are learning outside of the classroom – and social media and technologies such as Youtube and Facebook provide a platform for communication, collaboration and collective action which is more important to them than their textbooks. One day it’s about organizing a large gathering through Facebook, and next thing, it’s organizing political action. None of it comes from teachers or parents; it wouldn’t spark that level of engagement.

I’m seeing the power of collective response to disaster. Why aren’t we thinking in terms of social capital? Why aren’t we thinking about how to mobilize people to do things using social media? What are we doing at school? How can we spark this level of engagement? Should we rethink the ways we are teaching, the content?

You can see that this isn’t about technology tools, although all of this is made possible through technology. These are the things that drive me today – as an educator, parent, citizen. I don’t have the answers but the questions are driving me forward, connecting me to others who find the conversation valuable. This is what my PLP experience has been about. Life is a series of new starts. That’s why we feel we never reach our destination. We’re always starting out with new questions and new problems to solve. That’s why it’s a journey.

2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Spider’s web

Photo courtesy of moonjazz.

The Powerful Learning Practice experience is coming to an end, and it’s time for us to gather our thoughts and share what we’ve done.

I’ve been putting off my reflection because, frankly, the thought of gathering my thoughts about this relatively short, but intense, period of PLP participation, is overwhelming. Scouting around in blogs and Twitter links, I came across something which describes what I consider to be the focus of what is most valuable from my PLP experience: connectedness. 

I love the way Lisa Huff compares the spider’s web-weaving in Walt Whitman’s A Noiseless Patient Spider  with our reaching out to connect with others through technology.

Whitman, writing in the 1800’s, observes how a spider ceaselessly launches forth filament to explore his surroundings, to travel from one place to another, to bridge his world. Whitman notes mankind’s similarity to the spider. We too ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.

 Technology of the 21st century is connecting us like never before. We blog, we podcast, we collaborate via wikis, webcams, e-mails, discussion boards. We explore endless information easily summoned with a few clicks. We are living in the midst of sweeping technological changes that are reinventing the way we live, learn, laugh. At the heart of this change, however, is the basic spirit of exploration–that same spirit Whitman captured some two hundred years ago.

This is what I have learned since joining the PLP team – how much richer my life has become through connections with people globally via technology. I’m connected through people’s blogs, wikis, through Twitter, and other Web 2.0 applications, to a limitless network of resources, ideas, discussions and creativity. At the risk of sounding evangelical (once again), this is a life-changing experience. It’s not just a matter of acquiring some technological skills with tools, it’s what we have in common with Whitman’s spider as we ‘ceaselessly seek to connect, to make sense of the world, to reach out to others.’

Coming down to earth a little, I must say that my fervour about 21st century learning, and that of my team members, is shared by few in our school community, and I hear it’s the same everywhere. At times it’s lonely, other times frustrating, to be convinced that networked learning and teaching are in step with our fast-paced, global world, and to know that our current education system supports an outdated society. Trying to take tiny steps in convincing others is perhaps the only way to move forward, taking care not to alienate others, but to support them, model new ways of teaching, and to celebrate small successes.

What have I enjoyed the most?

  • writing my personal and fiction blogs
  • reading others’ blogs, wikis; commenting; taking part in discussion
  • creating and supporting nings, joining others’ nings
  • the support of my personal learning networks on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc.
  • sharing information and ideas
  • ‘converting’ others to the networks
  • discovering amazing people with great talents and wonderful minds
  • seeing engagement and joy in students, especially after the new ways of teaching have been a struggle to implement
  • being able to participate in professional development opportunities online at many different times
  • lifting up the minds of young people, seeing the spark in their eyes, hearing excitement in their voices
  • collaborating with others towards common goals
  • discovering unexpected and wonderful links to links to links
  • feeling energized by the depth of what’s out there
  • loving the learning

What have we learned, and what have we achieved? We’ve learned so much, and at the same time, we have so much more to learn. We’ve achieved a great deal, and yet we’ve only just begun.

What I’m sure of is that there are people I can rely on for help, ideas, support, resources, inspiration. These are the people I connect to as a teacher. I can never be bored, will never feel isolated, will always look forward to more.

2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, Education, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

4 Rs meme: favourite posts

I almost forgot to say this, so I’m editing postscript. Paul C. tagged me in a meme in his blog post. I have to admit that while some people find memes annoying, I love them, as long as they contain something worth reading. Memes are a great way to pool people, their views and resources. This one about favourite posts is like getting people to skim the cream of their thinking and writing. I hope you’ll enjoy mine and go on to read others, including Paul’s.

‘Meme rules:1. Scan your posts for your own personal favorites.
2. Choose one post in any/each of the four categories:

  • Rants
  • Resources
  • Reflections
  • Revelations

I leave it to you folks to define these terms, but my instinct is that we could treat these loosely. You are welcome to suggest new categories if these don’t fit.

3. In a blog post, list those posts and very briefly describe

  • why it was important,
  • why it had lasting value or impact,
  • how you would update it for today.

4. Select five (or so) other bloggers to tap with this meme.

5. Tag all of your post with #postsofthepast ‘

Rants – Don’t bag technology – ask what it means first –  I rave quite a lot. In fact, most of my posts are raves. In this post I express my frustration with the negativity with the wall you sometimes come face to face with when you talk to people about technology in education. The conclusion of this post centres on what I think is the transforming aspect of Web 2.0 tools, and that is the conversation and connection with a larger audience. As frustrating as it is to believe so much in what Web 2.0 platforms offer for engaged and connected learning and teaching, and to feel like Sisyphus pushing the massive boulder up the impossibly steep mountain, I have gained so much from my own connection with a personal learning network, and I intend to keep offering and suggesting, sharing and collaborating, even if that means moving small steps with few people. I live in hope.

Resources – Shift into overdrive – As I say in the post, Web 2.0 technologies have opened up new ways of opening up and creating new experiences for teachers. This post is a fairly comprehensive collection of Web 2.0 resources – not so much a collection of resources as a list of the amazing people who have created them.

Reflections – How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces? – It seems that my posts have a dominant theme: one of connections with people. I realised at the outset of the post that I have become a writer since starting a blog, and how much I missed writing since finishing secondary school. I’m convinced that having readers and commenters gives me a supportive, rich community to feed from and into.

Revelations – Teach the child – Sometimes the most powerful revelations are the ones which manifest themselves beyond words. This video of children singing moved me deeply and reminded me what is wonderful and sometimes hidden in each child. I like to come back to this video to remind myself that children are not just empty vessels to pour curriculum into.

I tag:

Steve Shann- Birds fly, fish swim; Susan Carter Morgan scmorgan ; Jennifer Clark Evans – My continuing education; Sean Nash – Nashworld; Marie Salinger – Just in time; Paul Stewart – Contemporary learning.

2 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, blogging

Melbourne Writers’ Festival

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2009 has something for everyone. Here is the line-up for under 18s.

Randa Abdel-Fattah | Tony Birch | Ezra Bix | John Boyne | Isobelle Carmody | Paul Collins | Kate De Goldi 

Briohny Doyle | Anthony Eaton | Elizabeth Fensham | Archie Fusillo | Raimond Gaita | Morris Gleitzman | Andy Griffiths

Jack Heath | Lia Hills | Simmone Howell | Michael Hyde | Danny Katz | Paul Kelly | Kon Karapanagiotidis | Chrissie Keighery

Joey Kurtschenko | Margo Lanagan | Justine Larbalestier | Julia Lawrinson | John Long | Geoff Lemon | Melina Marchetta

Andrew McDonald | Mischa Merz | David Metzenthen | China Mieville | Kirsty Murray | Joanna Murray-Smith

Richard Newsome | Mandy Ord | Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli | Bruce Pascoe | Alice Pung | Hannie Rayson | Gary Simmons

Alicia Sometimes | Shaun Tan | Penny Tangey | Tony Thompson | Urthboy | Scott Westerfeld | Chris Wheat | Gabrielle Wang

Read about more details here.

This is an excellent opportunity for schools and school librarians to engage and extend young readers.

We hope the program will assist to enrich your own reading experience, and promote the ways in which writing and reading are engaged in our schools.

  

Here is an opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors, as well as discover new talents:

We have an array of talent for your enjoyment and edification, and I hope you’ll spend some time with both our better-known authors, as well as with those who are on the rise. As in past years we’ve mixed the new with the established so that you can tell your friends and colleagues that you saw them here first!

Go to the website for more detailed information.

This is great timing for Book Week, August 22 – 28. There’s a good reason why Melbourne is the City of Literature. An excellent opportunity to take books and reading out of the library and amongst the people.

Just discovered that there is a Melbourne Writers’ Festival blog. You may be interested in the possibility of being among the first to see Neil Gaiman’s Coraline on film.

Join us for a very special Melbourne Writers Festival fundraising event, which will be –

  • Introduced by Shaun Tan (award-winning creator of The Arrival)
  • Screened at Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon St, Carlton on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at 6.30pm sharp
  • Raising money for the MWF Schools’ Program  

Coraline is created by cult author Neil Gaiman, directed by famed stop-motion animation expert Henry Selick, and voiced by the talents of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.


2 Comments

Filed under Children's books, Literature, reading, Teacher librarians

Problem-solving is for the birds

Problem-solving is not limited to the world of humans. It’s interesting to watch other species use thinking to solve a problem. Crows and ravens are, for me, associated with Grimms’ fairy tales and tales of dark forces, but here, thanks to Britannica Blog, we see a very practical crow persisting in reaching its goal.

2 Comments

Filed under Interesting

Moving forward and pulling back

Well, hello. Haven’t been around the blog lately. Mid-year holidays and taking time out of my head for a change. And, to tell you the truth, I’ve needed the break. No blog ideas put up their hands in their usual impatient manner. Nothing was hammering inside my head, clamouring to come out. No clear thoughts were forming, no ideas were sprouting. For a while there, I thought I’d dried out for good. Until I realised that I was looking back, only I’m not sure if I’m having second thoughts, or if I’m giving things a second look over.

Our PLP presentation is very close now. I can’t deny feeling unprepared. How have we, as a team, moved forward in changing teaching and learning in our school? How far have we come, if at all?

The answer is simultaneously a great deal and hardly at all. Taking part in the PLP ning, connecting to a rich network of educators, great minds, variety of personalities and viewpoints, forming a personal learning network that I don’t feel I could do without  – this is a new dimension that has changed my life as a teacher and a learner. The Art and English wikis, the personal and reading blogs, the ning I created to support students and teachers at my school are initial experiments, attempts to engage students in new ways, to share resources, to present different types of media as possibilities for discussion or creativity, to use technology for the purpose of re-envisaging education.

But how far does this go in making any difference to the way teaching and learning occur at my school? How many eductors have seen these things, and if they do, how many are convinced that I’m offering them something valuable, something worth trying out? The answer is – not many.

Dean Shareski’s post has resonated with me today. He describes the architecture of learning as transformative where there’s no going back.

The landscape of learning is changing. Rethinking what control means, understranding the power of sharing and transparency all work to topple many of the foundations our schools are built upon.

His post strikes a chord with me at this stage of my journey:

I know this, you know this but after spending 3 days amongst 18,000 in the educational technology field, I still say very few else know this. I made this observation (jump down to #4) last year at NECC and while the number may have increased slightly, those who really have any sense of the changes that are possilbe and perhaps inevitable in education is strikingly small. Yet sometimes the conversations amongst them would indicate they think everyone understands. A good example took place in the last session I attended on a panel discussion on Web 2.0. The panel was made up of all people that I and many in the audience knew very well either because we’ve spent time with them or know them from varoius online circles. The panel and audience were calling them by their first names and having a good discussion One lady stood up and felt frustrated since she didn’t know these people, these terms and most of the content of the conversation. That wasn’t her fault that’s ours. The assumption amongst folks who live and breath social media is that most teachers know about but they just don’t understand social media. We jump in with disucssion about Web 2.0 when they aren’t ready for that discussion since they have absolutely no prior knowledge. I”m not against having these kinds of discussions but it’s a bit like Christopher Columbus and crew arguing over how they would organize and structure the new world when most of the old world didn’t even know it existed and if they did, had no idea why or how they would get over to see it, let alone settle there. It’s not a totally useless discussion but perspective is important.

This is what I’m finding unsettling at this stage –  Dean’s analogy with Columbus. Should I feel unsettled knowing that I’m trying to populate a new world with people who deny its existence? Am I going about this the wrong way? Should I be happy to go slowly with a minority of takers? Am I being naive and unrealistic? Is trying to change teaching and learning in a school insane or egotistical? Am I unrealistically trying to change society itself? Can individuals make this change or is it only possible for politicians?

But then again, I’m pulled back by a comment on Dean’s blog by a teacher who attended NECC:

I paid my own way, as did many of the classroom teachers and a few of the administrators I met, because we are hungry to learn and starving for people who have the knowledge and experience to teach us. Of course, there were sessions and conversations at NECC that were way over my head, but hearing them and trying to understand gives me guideposts and goals for my future development.

If my new, recent direction in learning and teaching came ‘out of the blue’, then why shouldn’t other people make that transition? If a teacher cares about students and thinks about the best ways to inspire students to learn, then who’s to say my little steps, and those steps of my fellow PLP members, or anyone else who is struggling through relevant and engaging teaching and learning – who’s to say these things won’t make a difference?

Should we despair that our efforts are mere drops in the ocean, or should we appreciate our small steps?  So many rhetorical questions…

Dean points us to Tom Carroll’s article, If we didn’t have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? written 8 years ago and still very pertinent:

If we continue to prepare teachers as we have always prepared them, we are going to continue to recreate the schools we have always had. We have to start preparing teachers differently. If we are going to continue preparing educators to work as solo, stand-alone teachers in self-contained, isolated classrooms, we are going to perpetuate the schools we have today.   If we want schools to be different, we must start today to prepare teachers differently… significantly differently.

Yes, I do feel a few can make a difference, but it’s a slow and laborious process. Why isn’t teacher training aligned with the educational needs of students today? Who should we be influencing in order to revise teacher training, in order to go to the source of the problem?

I might stop before another flood of questions is unleashed. Please come in and help stop the flood.

2 Comments

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