Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reflections Post

As most of you may be aware, I have been participating in one of the best courses that Plymouth State University, or any other university, could offer on networked learning. The course, taught by Jeff Utecht and Kim Tufts, was Teaching and Learning in the Networked Classroom. What a great opportunity it was to push you to the next level of comfort in the digital age! Just imagine a course that actually encourages (OK, requires) the use of the tools rather than preaching the implications the tools have upon your teaching. My learning will never be the same.

What an invaluable, yes-invaluable, tool the Google Reader is! I am capable of designing my own learning opportunities and they are delivered daily to my Reader. Can you imagine to potentials this offers our students? As connectors, we become the portal to learning opportunities that permit our students to extend beyond the offered studies of our courses.

I am looking forward to the use of Skype in my class as a tool to connect my students to other students around the world. Now I have the tools and connections to make this happen. First hand knowledge and group work on real-life issues is just what our students need.

Although this has been my first experience with blogging, it certainly will not be my last. I just hope that others keep in touch, and I actually get feed back. That feedback, that audience component is vital to me. It is certainly something that I want to work more with.

This course work was accessed through a wiki page. I learned about Wikis over the summer and was excited about using it with my students; however, I ran into age issues. Nonetheless, with parental permission, I was able to establish a wiki page for the Winter Wellness activity that I offered. I had mixed success with the work here, as it was a creative writing focus and many of my students were simply unwilling to engage their efforts in writing. I hope to begin a wiki for my students in the spring as part of their English course work.

Podcasts. Another first for me. I made one. I would have to say it wasn't "me" or perhaps a better way to say that is it wasn't my voice, my personality. This takes time and confidence--two things I need to work on. However, my weakness didn't stop me from requiring my students to try it as well. We have just begun the recordings on the limited number of computers and mics we have. Next comes the editing and possible posting. (I really need to work on encouraging our tech guy to establish teacher maintained websites from our weak, weak school page.) I have a long way to go, but I have found some schools around the world that do a great job posting their students' podcasts. (I have even dabbled in digital video projects in reading class. Some of my students have posted theirs on YouTube. Pretty impressive work.)

Although I have learned a great deal through my work during this semester, I think that my recommendation for other teachers that may or may not be taking this course is to jump in feet first and make technology happen within your classroom. With all the free Web2.0 tools, you have all that you need. The other teachers will see the value of technology in the classroom; the students will enjoy it and many will flourish. Some of your hardest to reach students may become your student connectors to technology. It has happened in my classroom, and it will happen in yours.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Project Based Learning

It seems so logical, so obvious, so practical. Project Based Learning. It's not new; it draws on theories that have been around for a very long time. Yet, we still revert back to the traditional 19th and 20th Century assessment tools.

Why is it that we unjustly assess our students on "high stakes" tests by standardizing our students when we know how diverse and individual and non-standardized they are?

It amazes me how we can teach people how to do something in a way that totally negates the approach being taught. For example, I don't know how many undergraduate and graduate course and even workshops I have attended that teach various approaches to meet the various learning styles and needs of our students, yet they use the traditional structure of lecture to do so. It drives me crazy.

Some day, perhaps, all of us will be able to embrace the individual needs of our students and assess them on the qualities that matter. And what better way than through project based learning opportunities.

Today I was in the doctor's office, and he spoke of his experience in the "hippie" medical program. Though the program was just an experiment at the time, it eliminated the objective tests and focused on the process of learning through project based learning. Teachers facilitated while the students directed their own learning through an inquiry-based model. True this is not for all learners, but what it does is foster the development of life-long learners and investigators--Isn't that what we want our doctors to be? Give me a doctor that keeps up on current research and practice over a doctor that graduated top of his class in his objective-test based medical program.

How does this equate to our students? Look at our drop-out rate nationally: According to the National Center for Education Statistics the dropout rate in 2006 was 9.3% (that's down since the 14.6% 1972--that surprised me). What happened in education that may account for this 5% decrease? Perhaps those of you that taught through it may be able to explain. I am wondering when project based learning began to really root itself in education. The Buck Institute says it has been around for 100 years.

In the Buck Institute for Education's Handbook: Introduction to Project Based Learning, outstanding projects do the following:

Recognize students' inherent drive to learn, their capability to do important work, and their need to be taken seriously by putting them at the center of the learning process.

  • Engage students in the central concepts and principles of a discipline. The project work is central rather than peripheral to the curriculum.
  • Highlight provocative issues or questions that lead students to in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics.
  • Require the use of essential tools and skills, including technology, for learning, self-management, and project management.
  • Specify products that solve problems, explain dilemmas, or present information generated through investigation, research, or reasoning.
  • Include multiple products that permit frequent feedback and consistent opportunities for students to learn from experience.
  • Use performance-based assessments that communicate high expectations, present rigorous challenges, and require a range of skills and knowledge.
  • Encourage collaboration in some form, either through small groups, student-led presentations, or whole-class evaluations of project results.

Project Based Learning prevails in schools that have adopted the Middle School Philosophy. Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age is a book that sparked my interest as I begin to explore the potentials of the project base learning that I currently employ in my classroom. I am really interested in working with teachers collaboratively across boarders. I have a contact in Pakistan that may be interested.

There are a lot of great models out there, and there are a lot of inspiring individuals like Bill Strickland that encourage us to try the best approaches to educating our society's youth.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Making it all happen...

We talk about change; we confirm the need for change in our politics, our church, our schools. But what do we each, each, do to initiate that change, to work on solutions, to foster a better culture? What do we do?
George Siemens writes about the need for change in his work Knowing Knowledge. He states:
  • "We are in the early stages of dramatic change—change that will shake the spaces and structures of our society. Knowledge, the building block of tomorrow, is riding a tumultuous sea of change."
  • "Left in the wake of cataclysmic change are the knowledge creation and holding structures of the past. The ideologies and philosophies of reality and knowing—battle spaces of thought and theory for the last several millennia—have fallen as guides. Libraries, schools, businesses—engines of productivity and society—are stretching under the heavy burden of change."
Where can we start? So many bloggers have been questioning and philosophizing.
Jeff Utecht's The Thinking Stick blog entry "The Beginning of the End"
  • "I feel the momentum of change coming."
  • "I don’t know about you…but I see the pieces slowly moving together. It’s like looking at a map for the first time after learning about the Continental Drift Theory…and for the first time you step back and you look…..and you see it….you see how all of the pieces could fit together…and you have a moment…a moment where you go WHOA!"

Scott McLeod's Dangerously Irrelevant entry "It's not a revolution unless someone gets hurt"

  • "I think it is becoming increasingly clear that our current system of education is going to go away. There are simply too many societal pressures and alternative paradigms for it to continue to exist in its current form.
    The only question, then, is: How long are we going to thrash around before we die?"

Carl Anderson's Techno Constructivist entry "Hybrid Project-Based Charter Idea Explained"

  • "I have been exploring the possibility of starting a new charter school in Minnesota that is partially virtual but will exist as digitally connected classrooms within the walls of our existing public schools."

But where do we go from there. We can't sit around and wait for something. We need to be advocates; we need to foster an environment to make that SHIFT happen. Individuals can't do it alone... it takes a communities effort. Carl Anderson sees that, and he is drawing upon his local community's involvement. (There is a video in his entry worth viewing.) I hope he continues to realize that support is available in this vast space I'm using now.

George Siemens believes that to "'Know where' and 'know who' are more important today than knowing what and how. An information rich world requires the ability to first determine what is important, and then how to stay connected and informed as information changes." What valuable insight. This insight is no different than that of Bill Strickland's as he progressively made one connection after another to foster his dream of providing an educational outlet for the poor of his Pittsburgh community. The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild was his dream, and through his ability to make personal connections with people his dream was made a success. He knows, as spoken by Siemens, that " knowledge is not intended to fill minds. It is intended to open them." And that is just what Strickland has done for the poor neglected by our traditional systems of education. "You've got to look like the solution; not the problem," Strickland argues in the following video.

Strickland is right "There is nothing wrong with the kids." It's the system.

"We need to step outside of the destination view of learning and embrace the journey view" (Siemens), just as Strickland has done, before we are able to help foster that successful Shift in our educational institutions. We need to think big and act big and then, maybe then, we'll see what this change in education looks like.

"We advance humanity’s potential through knowledge. We advance humanity through emotion." -George Siemens

“You must be prepared to act on your dreams just in case they do come true.” -Bill Strickland

Do we have to be a George Siemens or a Bill Strickland to make things happen? No, but we do need to work together, support one another, and foster change when we know that it is the right road to take.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teaching in a New Networked World

I didn't know that a high school teacher in our school system was teaching an online course to twenty students from our school and various other locations within and beyond the states. I googled the teacher and found nothing more than his name listed as a staff member and assignment in our school district. How did he shield his online identity so well? How connected is this teacher? What basis is he using to develop the course work offered? I really began wondering.

I have often, lately, felt that I would love to offer a course purely online in writing. Could I do it? I am sure I could; however, would I do it well?

In reading George Siemens' book Knowing Knowledge "Designing" chapter, he states "Perhaps even our notion of design is worth rethinking—do we design learning? Or do we design environments in which motivated learners can acquire what they need?" His notion of the "motivated learner" made me do a retake of the passage. I know I design learning opportunities for my students; however, not all of my seventh graders are motivated. Perhaps it's my job to motivate them, but do you know that there are always a few that escape motivation? A few of these students will make fostering an environment of knowledge acquisition a challenge. Discipline is always going to be a necessity in a classroom.

I wonder what kinds of issues arise with the instruction of an online course? I can image that, like the traditional classroom, motivation is a factor. However, I would believe in both cases the motivated learners flourish. Do the poor behaviors come through and impact the other students in a class? Certainly their lack of participation would impact the opportunities for others to obtain knowledge from their contributions, but it's nothing like having to remove an unruly person from the room (though this rarely happens in my class).

I have recently had the opportunity to do some Flip Camera Videos with my Winter Wellness writing students (Thursdays once a week for six weeks). All but one of the computers repeatedly rejected the Flip program. How frustrating was it to not have the technology work! Perhaps due to the limitations of my student's account status; perhaps due to the limitations of the operating systems. I don't know. What I have learned is that with the volatile state of our in-house hardware, I have had to ensure that a second, back-up lesson is prepared and ready to go. Otherwise, we're talking chaos and not the Chaos Siemens refers to as the place where learning and connecting can occur unless he is talking about the middle school students form of connection.

Siemens also remarks that "we need to step outside of the destination view of learning and embrace the journey view." On a personal level, this is the approach that works best for me as a learner. Perhaps for many of my students this is best for them--I see it in many of the technology-based activities they do for class. (I had one student come in so excited about figuring out how to edit a YouTube video and include it in her Windows Movie Maker presentation for her book review.)

It's this area of releasing control in a classroom that creates personal and professional dissonance. Do parents understand that it's okay for their children to be curious about the tools of technology? Do parents understand that sometimes they don't have to be able to answer their child's questions, and it's okay for their child to find the answer through trial and error? When students have shared the work they have done using various technology tools, other students want to explore those tools on their own. When a parent questions why a teacher didn't warn them or give explicit directions to their child for using various tools, how comfortable is a teacher in encouraging this self-exploration, the most valuable tool for learning?

George Siemens captures it perfectly when he says: "Rather than being excited that we can participate in the rich, diverse world of differing perspectives and opinions, we pull back because 'we do not know.' It is not that we fear the state of not knowing. We fear others seeing that we do not know. How do we teach learners to accept (and value) not knowing?"

Exploring the Web

While exploring the website k12onlineconference, I stumbled upon a link to Edutopia. After signing up for their free sample magazine, I navigated to a video about a Malden, Massachusetts, fifth grade interdisciplinary unit that integrated technology effectively. I was captured by the video and have it attached here:

If you would like to read more about this project, there is an article by Robert Simpson entitled "Visualizing Technology Integration: A Model for Meeting ISTE Educational-Technology Standards."

Projects like these remind us that by working together anything is possible.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

PLNs and Our Learning Communities

Why is it that I am always underestimating the possibilities of my seventh graders' use of technology--participation in a wiki, use of the RSS reader, etc.? Why have I been feeling that I need to apply for that HS English position in my school to be able to better use the Web 2.0 tools? Why have I been feeling limited? Why have I been limiting?

Well, I'd say I have had these notions as a result of my own ignorance, my own boxed in limitations (along with the null exposure to technology by my students, and the limited school resources). In reality, I should be diving in (as I have begun to do so), because these same students will not be any better off as high school students if they are not introduced to the possibilities of creating their own learning communities (even if I do facilitate the structuring of them)--it has to start somewhere. I would face the same limitations with HS students as I do with MS students. The one thing I have going for me is that middle school students are more readily willing to try the tools. They're still malleable. So, now that I have gotten over that "grass is greener" moment. I am ready to move on!

(A hydrostone sculpture by Michael Alfano)

The funny thing about Personal Learning Communities is that they are so individualized that structuring them is very arbitrary. Every individual is just that individual in their thoughts, interests, motivations.... When George Siemens speaks about "Overload of Diversity" in his book Knowing Knowledge he says, "Knowing resides in the collective of many differing, diverse viewpoints. This requires new skills of interacting and functioning, especially since our schools are still teaching basics for an era that no longer exists." He was speaking to me. Was he speaking to you too?
The essence of a personal learning community is the individual seeking knowledge and communication. I think back at my "Black Hole of Web 2.0" entry, and visualize each individual (teacher, student, community member, random person) as a star. Some stars may be gathered in galaxies (perhaps such communities as Classroom 2.0 or the NWP Rural Sites Network); some stars drift among galaxies--their boundaries undefined. The planets are the variety of learning opportunities offered to the stars--some many, some few, some none. Those stars without planets are either just starting, dead, or dying. The point being is that we limit ourselves to "past practice" we are not permitting our stars to reach their full potentials or, in some cases, any potential.
Our job as teachers is to connect, not limit, our students to the world of learning that they should be experiencing: introduce them to an RSS, show them how to judge Internet sources of knowledge, and above all give them control of their learning through guidance and immersion. To do this, we need to be leaders in our schools. We need to model the effective use of these tools in our classroom and for our peers. We need to function as leaders within the personal learning communities of others.
I've got a lot of work to do if I want my children to be taught with approaches that are not "basics from an era that no longer exists."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A black hole or Web 2.0?

Can you tell?

In Wikipedia the abstract concept of a black hole is given shape: "According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, a black hole is a region of space in which the gravitational field is so powerful that nothing, including electromagnetic radiation (e.g. visible light), can escape its pull after having fallen past its event horizon."

The computer simulated images above is credited to Ute Kraus, Max-Planck-Institut für Gravitationsphysik, Golm, and Theoretische Astrophysik, Universität Tübingen

Drawing of a black hole Credit: XMM-Newton, ESA, NASA

"The black hole information paradox results from the combination of quantum mechanics and general relativity. It suggests that physical information could 'disappear' in a black hole, allowing many physical states to evolve into precisely the same state."

I don't know about you, but I see and seem to be experiencing Web 2.0 as a black hole. Is it possible? Is it a "bad" thing? I've decided it is possible and it's not a bad thing.

Upon completing the chapters "Emotions and Creativity" and "Implications-Structural/Spiritual Impact" in Knowing Knowledge by George Siemens, I felt this even stronger. Siemens states, "We exist in dimensions beyond pure cognition. We are shaped by social interactions. We are influenced by our emotions, our motivations. We require transformative (spiritual) knowledge for novel recombinations (to rethink and recast information)." I know we are all multidimensional, but we are all entering this space, this world wide web space, this Web 2.0 space that is not easily understood. A transformation of the knowledge we hold and those with whom we share this knowledge occurs in an undefined space, for me, a black hole. And where does that information go after it bounces around among the planets and stars (individuals) and the solar systems (online communities)? Those words, that information, our virtual work define us as individuals; however, who we are may or may not be an accurate reflected in that work, as it is absorbed by others.

Siemens concludes, "The capacity for shared understanding today does not arise from being exposed to the same resources. It arises from being transparent with each other. A tool is required that allows us to manage our identity and share what we wish with those we wish." I would argue that the gravity of this tool hold us together and perhaps transforms us into transparent individuals. But do we disappear in this space? Is that what happens in a black hole? Is this what holds us together in Web 2.0?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Plymouth Writing Project: A Podcast Review

Podcasting! Another first for me. It took some time to complete this podcast. The recording and planning was easy; however, the editing and posting was more of a challenge for me.

I used Audacity to record. I wanted music for the intro and conclusion; this I found at Podsafe Audio. I used the fading options and it all worked out well.

Then I exported it to an MP3 file. I had to down load Lame Mp3 Encoder. The export was complete after I named and completed the necessary information for the file.

Finally, I posted the podcast on Podomatic. From Podomatic I was able to post the podcast to my Blogger page and my Facebook page.

I hope that this helps my classmates in Teaching and Learning in a Networked Classroom.

I look forward to your feedback; and perhaps, just perhaps, I will see you this summer in one of the Plymouth Writing Project Summer Institutes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wikis in Education

I believe that the only way to truly explore a tool is to use it. That is the best part about Teaching and Learning in a Networked Environment. I first learned of wikis during my fellowship through the Plymouth Writing Project when I explored the book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardon as part of my research component to the expeience. The book is rich with potentials for classroom technology integration.

I fell in love with the National Writing Projects' summer opportunity for fellows to post their writing and receive feedback from educators all over the country--the world even. Never before had I received such rich feedback on my writing. This was the opportunity I needed to give my students.

Perhaps prematurely in August, I set out creating a wiki for my students. And then the reality of my students' young age set in--It didn't seem like it would be possible. There is such insecurity among parents and educators alike when it comes to using the web 2.o tools. It's almost fear--but more like ignorance of the reality that it is better to teach the students about the proper use rather than sheild them from the potential benefits of the web.

So, I have decided to test the waters of a wiki with my Winter Wellness writers. It's such a new tool for them that there are many obstacles to overcome in the six-days that I have them. We have had our second day to work on our writing, and I have found that we have spent more time playing with the wiki page's tools than writing. This past Thursday we had trouble even logging on--no surprise as our technology tools have been a work in progress throughout the district.

I see such potential if I can make this work. Students in other areas of the world could be offering suggestions to my students regarding their writing. If I could just get past the limitations of both our district's technology and my students lack of exposure to it, I could really open my students up to some great opportunities.

Becoming a Fish

"In Relation to Knowing," a chapter in Knowing Knowledge by George Siemens, has left me trying to grasp the thought that knowledge is a stream. It truly makes sense when I reflect upon it as it is always growing and changing; however, there is no comfort in the thought that certainty of knowing is a mere arbitrary construction an individual imposes to gain security. (Does that make sense?)
For those that find an end to their learning (which we all must know as never existing) whether it be acquiring that degree or comfort level in their profession, they have fallen short of their potential. When one stops seeking knowledge or even questioning their current knowledge and understanding, they have failed themselves.

Siemens states: "We are too impatient with knowledge. We categorize it by imposing our models of organization." I know that I am impatient and must categorize; however, as I continue to browse my RSS each day, I am seeing that I have to release that categorization and grasp each new piece of information in a rather vitalizing way.

No longer satisfied being the fisherman of learning, I have stepped into the stream some where north of Pittsburg, NH. I have a ways to go before I am fully immersed in the breadth of knowledge available to me. Someday perhaps I'll find myself living as a fish in this fluid domain.