Friday, October 9, 2009

Internet Safety: Compliance or Education?

Clearly, one of the most significant issues facing educators today is internet safety for our children. States, through the federal government, are now requiring that cybersafety be taught to all children from grades 3-12. As a result, districts throughout the country are scrambling to devise a cybersafety curriculum. Software programs and sites, both open source and fee-based are popping up on the web like mushrooms, and some forward-thinking districts, like Collinsville in Illinois, who already had a robust system in place are constantly barraged by the rest of us who need to catch up. Doing a Youtube on “cybersafety” can produce more instructional videos on the topic than you could ever use in a lifetime. Some are quite powerful. State governments are producing teen tip sheets, agreement “contracts” and a multitude of text to help protect our children.

The role of developing a curriculum for my district is, in part, my responsibility. I have attended conferences, read countless articles, talked to many experts, and reviewed many, many, software applications. In my research I am encouraged with the depth of information on the topic. However, I am concerned that three elements seem to be missing, or at best, an afterthought in the process.

1. Student-centered activities I have seen many ”lists” of do’s and don’ts, video presentations ranging from cute, to creepy, to downright disturbing, depending on the intended audience, Powerpoints, handouts, and brochures. I even saw one program that billed itself as a content “delivery” system (“delivery”? is this mail?). While these are good starting points, My question is this: What are kids doing? Activities need to be designed that require students to make, create, discuss, write, or speak about something. One idea we had is for older students to make the powerful PSA’s instead of merely watching them.

2. PARENTS Much of the curriculum in these programs is geared toward students. While this is essential, parent education needs to be as important, if not more important than the teaching of children. During school hours, the majority of internet time for students is supervised, many social networking sites are blocked in schools, (for better or worse), and for the most part, teachers possess an awareness of potentially dangerous situations. When students go home, however, the same is not always true. Perhaps the parents work while kids are home, or are not savvy enough to know what to look for. While a tip sheet for parents is helpful, it is not enough. At parent night last month, my role was to speak with parents on cybersafety, and to encourage them to come back in late October. During parent-teacher conferences, we are offering personal cybersafety conferences. Parents can sign up for them just as they would with a teacher. While this is not comprehensive, I believe we are on the right path.

3. How NOT to be the “bad guy” Much of the emphasis on cybersafety seems to be on protection from potentially dangerous situations including predators and cyberbullying. The problem is, we are not addressing the predators or bullies; they come from somewhere, right? Instead, emphasis needs to be placed on teaching students ethical, considerate behavior, in other words “Make sure YOU are not the ‘bad guy.’” I am reminded of what Roger Johnson (As in “Cooperative Learning” Roger Johnson) said about trust: “In order to build trust, you must be first be trustworthy.”

I guess what it all comes down to is what your learning target is. If your goal is to stay in compliance with state and federal mandates, feel free to have an “Internet Safety Day,” (Shouldn’t EVERY day be internet safety day?), hand out the pamphlets, and watch the videos. If your target is to keep your kids safe, do all of the above, plus have kids make something, include the parents, and teach them to be responsible, ethical users of technology.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Why Technology?" A True Story

The other day I received a request from my Linkedin account from Scott Bolzan, a college football teammate of mine back in the early 80’s at Northern Illinois University. Scott was a friend, a fellow offensive lineman who, I heard, had an accident which resulted in a brain injury that stripped him of all his memories. All 46 years worth. Here was a man, captain of our Conference and California Bowl Championship team, NFL player, pilot, and, most importantly, husband and father, stripped of his past.

I hadn’t talked to Scott in 25 years.

In his contact with me, he had described his situation and hoped that I could help him by sharing some stories about our days playing at NIU. I also found out that it was his wife, Joan had requested that he begin reaching out to former teammates. My heart sank as I thought about what she was going through, too. I remembered when she and Scott met, dated, and then were wed.

Quickly, I began rewinding the years and jotted down snippets from the past…how we got nicknames, memories from other players, games, triumphs and toil, that is college football. He then sent me to his website that includes his tragic story, television interviews, pictures of Scott and Joan and their biographies—all serving as a means to get the word out about this rare unfortunate situation. I noticed that on his site he is also a Twitter user, and immediately logged on and followed @scottbolzan, and then immediately tweeted to my PLN about his story. Then I remembered a wiki I started last year for our team on the 25th anniversary of our championship season called “Cal Bowl ’83.” , which I sent to him as well. He emailed me back saying how much he enjoyed looking at the pictures, then and now, of his teammates.

So why am I writing about this in an educational blog?

Many educators, including myself feverishly write and speak about the digital disconnect between school and home. Kids are connected to all levels of technology outside of class, but are often denied it in school. For those skeptics, who resist the available technologies, I invite them to study the role of technology played Scott’s dilemma. He found me again through Linkedin, we emailed, I sent him digital images from the past from a wiki we made about our bowl appearance, visited his website, (PLEASE visit) and originally heard about his situation from a site called Mallorymen, a social networking site for former players of our coach, Bill Mallory from Miami, Colorado, NIU, and Indiana.

I don’t know if Scott will ever regain his memory. My impression is that instead trying to “remember” he is on a quest to “relearn” through his family and friends. So where does technology fit into this? These sites and tools serve as a conduit for his regaining at least some of his past. Social networking sites, blogs, wikis, twitter, and email all bring us a little closer. They have enabled Scott to reach out for help, and for us to reach back.

Try doing that with paper and pen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Hope

As a parent, it is a mixed blessing being a teacher. It’s like the chef who goes to a restaurant; sometimes knowing the workings of the restaurant can inhibit the enjoyment of the meal. So, as a parent of three…and a teacher, I sometimes know “too much” as I am often reminded from time to time by each of my children.

As this school year starts, my youngest begins his high school career. His first day was inauspicious, very “freshman.” He could not open his locker, got lost in the massive building a couple times, and, somehow, lost his lunch. And that’s not a euphemism, he literally, could not find his lunch. As heartbreaking as that may be, I know those things will work out with developing his routine. What concerns me more is the hope I have for the learning experiences he has in front of him. I would like to share those hopes:

I hope his teachers provide clear expectations and constant feedback.

I hope his teachers use grades to measure progress, not to sort, reward, or punish.

I hope his teachers provide opportunities for him to work collaboratively on problems that matter.

I hope he is able to write for authentic, real audiences other than the teacher.

I hope he is encouraged to read a wide variety of literature, and be able to select some of his own readings.

I hope he is permitted to redo and rework projects.

I hope that he is asked to “do” more than he is asked to “listen.”

I hope he is asked to create and express himself in many different modes.

I hope he is asked to develop a position, and then defend it.

I hope he smiles and laughs often.

I hope he is asked to regularly reflect on his work and the work of others.

I hope he is asked to think deeply instead of respond quickly.

I hope he is asked to tell and listen to stories often.

I hope he has opportunities to create, discuss, and solve issues with students across town or across the country.

I hope he is able to teach, and learn from his peers.

I hope his teachers NEVER offer extra credit for behaviors that have nothing to do with his learning.

I hope his teachers use technology to extend learning .

I hope that his homework is purposeful.

I hope he is allowed to make lots and lots of mistakes; that’s how he’ll learn.

I hope he takes responsibility for his own learning.

I hope he values learning over point-gathering.

I hope his teachers spend less time on test prep, more time on life prep.

I hope he never says “school is boring.”

These hopes may seem idealistic to some. That may be. But I am a teacher. Optimism and idealism are givens. As you begin this school year, always remember that every pair of eyes and ears out there belong to someone.

Someone who hopes.

Have a great year.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Digital Storytelling and Animoto are Mutually Exclusive.

I have commented here and there about my opinions of Animoto. It is time that I post an official statement on here. This is a response to a blog I recently wrote. I welcome your comments.

While Animoto is a very slick, flashy tool that creates eye-popping results, it really isn't a suitable tool for Digital Storytelling, in my opinion. I guess the first thing is to define "Digital Storytelling." For many, it has morphed into virtually any movie making, visual and sound project. However, ther term coined by Joe Lambert and the late Dana Atchley refers to a personal sharing experience rooted in narrative. What animoto creates is what Lambert refers to as "Digital Spectacle." The emphasis in animoto is visual effects...not story.

The second thing I question is exactly what kids learn by dumping pictures and music into animoto? Even the intro says, "No two movies WE make are the same." Wouldn't we be better off having kids do the creation?

Here's the thing: I guess it has to do with expectations. If the teacher's goal is to create dazzling visual spectacle, then, yes, animoto is a great choice. However, if the focus is on developing a story with a point, dramatic question, containing emotional content through the fusion of story, carefully-chosen images, voice, and soundtrack, then perhaps another platform might serve better. I use Photostory 3, I have seen great stories done in iMovie, Movie maker, Adobe Premier, Pinnacle Studio, and even Voice thread. The difference is the control of the student.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Academic Integrity: Do You Walk the Walk?

Do you like this picture? I didn't take it. It was shot by flickr contributor "Daviddesign." I did some searching, and I found that it fit the tone of this post. But did I really need to post his name? I mean, it's just a picture.

Image by Flickr Contributor, "Daviddesign"

Every year of teaching English, it seemed that at some time we had a discussion on “hypocrisy.” I liked to use identifiable examples to illustrate for students. “Hypocrisy is the health teacher who smokes, the overweight PE teacher, or the drivers ed teacher who gets a DUI.” While these are blatant examples, there is another realm of hypocrisy a bit more subtle but equally destructive to our children.

That realm relates to how we, as educators approach plagiarism.

Most teachers expend tremendous energy and spend countless hours instructing students on the particulars of summarizing, paraphrasing and appropriately citing material. Programs such as Turnitin and SafeAssign help monitor student work and serve as excellent learning tools to assist students in proper synthesis of material so they can honestly call it their own (I am always puzzled by teachers who use these tools as punishment devices…the “gotcha” strategy is not exactly sound educationally). I applaud those teachers making such efforts. Today, with information so readily available, our method of instruction has drastically changed. Time spent on “searching” has been replaced with evaluating sources as well as emphasizing the importance of honesty and integrity. “Cut and Paste” has become far too easy.

At the same time, we all need to look in the mirror to make sure we are modeling those same behaviors that we so value for our students.

I’m not suggesting our profession is riddled with ne’er-do-wells, instead, I would like to suggest a checklist of common practices by teachers today that need to be scrutinized for their ethics: intentional or otherwise.

Lesson plans or Worksheets: We all have favorite “go-to” websites when we need that one lesson we just don’t have created. A quick search and, “voila,” we have fond an instant lesson. Copy and paste in Word, hit the Xerox machine…and good to go. Question: did you cite the source on the bottom of the page?

Images: We know the power of a thought-provoking image. With Flickr, Cooliris, and other search tools, we have virtually any image we want at the click of a mouse. Have you identified the photographer on the bottom of the picture as you displayed it to your class? Have you selected imageswith the appropriate Creative Commons attribution?

Music: Let’s say you are teaching the role that protest songs played politically in the late sixties. To make it come to life, you put together a montage of images from Life Magazine,from the Google/ Life archive, accompanied by a medley of songs from the time period. You gave credit to Life Photographers, but did you mention John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, and Barry McGwire?

Powerpoint presentations: Slideshare has kept me from reinventing the wheel and I am sure it has saved you as well. For those of you not familiar with slideshare, it is a collection of Powerpoint presentations on hundreds of topics, many of which are free to use. I wonder how many teachers have used one of these presentations and just changed the name. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody did it better, fine…just let your audience know too.

Staff Development: Many of us have had the opportunity to present information, strategies, or techniques to our colleagues. Do we always give credit to those whom we have adapted? Ironically, this mentioning of credits adds validity to your presentation.

Blogging or posting articles: I hope this goes without saying, but if we preach to children about giving due credit on published information, then clearly we need to do the same, especially when we open up to the whole world as audience. Please give credit to those who have inspired and taught you.

Many of you who know me know that I am a Digital Storytelling evangelist. I do workshops, speak at conferences, write articles, and blog on the topic. As much as I have made it my “own” I cannot go more than a couple sentences without mentioning Joe Lambert, the man who created the genre, or people like Bernajean Porter or Jason Ohler who have advanced DST to the realm of education. See? I just did it.

No, the intention of this post is not to discuss the legal details of plagiarism or documentation, although every educator should have as much of a working knowledge of the term “Creative Commons” as they do “Tort Liability.” The point is this: if you present something with only your name on it, you imply that it is yours. I hope that the next time you create a lesson, presentation, or write an article, you just do the same as you would ask your students to do. Remember, they are watching and learning more from your actions than your words.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Google Options? What's That?

Google has added another feature to their arsenal of search tools. After you do a search, you will notice the “Show options” link (which toggles back to “hide options”) on the left side below the Google logo. When you click this link, you will have access to a variety of alternate search features that may make your life easier. As I review these, think about not only how it will help you, but how it will help students as well.

1 All Results: If you leave this button alone, “all results” remain. However, under this option, you will see “videos,” “forums,” and “reviews.” Depending on your search, one of these might be a handy tool to expand your understanding of the topic. Clicking video might help if you are researching a musician; with one click you can listen to a performance by Yoyo Ma. The next tab, forums can put you in touch with blogs and discussion boards on the topic. Today we are constantly telling kids to “collaborate;” this makes connecting just a bit easier. Reviews is self explanatory. Clicking this tab searches for reviews on a product of your choice. Perhaps a consumer education teacher might like this feature. I myself am in the market for a new MP3 player and found the reviews quite helpful.

2. Any Time: This button works in conjunction with the “All Results.” If any choice other than “videos” is chosen, you can select items by how recently they have been posted; “recent,” “past 24 hours,” “past week,” or “past year.” If videos is selected, the time choices refer to duration of videos: short, medium, or long.

3. Standard Results: With 1 above set at default, this button offers two features for your current search. First, Images from this page displays thumbnails of pictures on this site. I can see an advantage here for students researching to create a digital documentary. More text adds text from the webpage so viewers can quickly get a better understanding of what the page contains. The advantage of Standard Results is that searchers get a bit more information about a site and can compare it head to head with others before opening.

4. Standard view: Probably the slickest feature, the view can be changed to Wonder Wheel or Timeline. Wonder Wheel takes your current search and creates a web (concept map) of alternate search possibilities. And yes, each one of those is a live link that, if clicked, creates another wheel, and another, and another. Each time a link is selected, a new, refined set of links appears on the right. For students who have difficulty researching related topics, this can be quite a help. Historical searches can greatly benefit from the Timeline view. Clicking this will display an appropriate timeline. Below, will be significant years for the event which are links to more sites related to the topic. I can hardly wait to show this to my social studies teachers.

Clearly, you would never use all these features in a search. But as always, it isn’t about the tools, it’s having them available to know when to use them. Thanks, Google.

View the introductory video here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Technology?

My colleague, and DST pro, Ben Grey asked me to consider a very basic question in our field, “Why technology?”
Why technology? This is akin to asking Tom Brady, “Why football?” or Frank Sinatra “Why sing?” or, closer to home, an English teacher, “why read?” Each asks us to look at the essence of what we do: sometimes that question is hard to answer. To begin, here is an excerpt of my summative professional growth plan for this year:
“I feel that we are at a critical cross road at this school. The idea of technology being an “add on” must become obsolete. We must embrace two truths: first, technology is no longer optional in education. Second, we must build curriculum with technology inherent, ubiquitous, and transparent to improve achievement of our students. This stems from developing sound learning targets, including formative assessments, and allowing students more autonomy in their own learning. At the heart of this, Content, Pedagogy, and Technology must play equal roles in the development of what, how, and why we teach.”
This idea of technology having the same “weight” (TPCK model) is nothing new. For years, we designed lessons keeping in mind paper, pen, chalkboard, overhead, and word processor. Clearly, today there is more to consider.
We must keep in mind that “Technology,” per se, is NOT a panacea for all education woes. Tied with sound content and pedagogy, skillful use of technology improves achievement. A study done by Passig and Schwartz in 2007 supported that on-line collaborative writing resulted in richer communication than did face-to-face collaborative writing. In other words, kids write better (in this case) with the technology.
Especially for our disenfranchised students, judicious use of technology pays off. A teacher in my school uses blogging as a means for recording ideas and giving feedback (Assessment FOR Learning) on writing assignments to a group of Emotionally Disabled (E.D.) students. The teacher is receiving more and higher quality writing than he did using paper and pencil. ELL teachers find that Digital Storytelling, especially for their first-year students greatly improves pronunciation and articulation when recording voice over. MN students create “video resumes” to submit to prospective employers. Business owners have said that students have been hired, in part, due to this powerful method of introduction.
So why do we have such an uphill struggle? Clearly, some teachers are just not confident in their abilities using technology; no teacher wants to look stupid in front of kids. But I think it is deeper than that. One of my colleagues said it best:
“Perhaps the people who are resistant to [technology] use are the ones who believe they are the fountains of knowledge and students can't learn unless they're in the presence of a teacher.”

This, I feel, gets to the germ of the question “Why Technology?” We need to remember than in using technology wisely, we must focus on developing autonomous learners. This requires teachers to loosen the grip of control in the classroom, while at the same time nurture the skills and ethics needed that stem from such privilege. As we all know, change can be very difficult.
Today’s technologies, if used to support the teaching of a fundamental literacy, foster student autonomy as never before. But we must choose our tools wisely to support that autonomy, and teach a whole set of approaches we never dreamed twenty years ago. To diminish the current disconnect kids feel between school and “life” we must make the technologies as useful and pervasive in here, as they are out there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Collaboration: Old Meets New

“Collaboration” seems to be one of the buzzwords in education today. Even the esteemed N.C.T.E. identifies one of its “21st Century Literacies” as the ability to “build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally.” Couple this with the explosion of Web 2.0 tools including blogs, wikis, podcasting, social networking and all the other “cool tools,” and you have a formula ripe for collaboration. But to call collaboration “new” is forgetting our roots. There is no topic more researched in the history of education than the value of “working together.” Leaders such as the Johnsons of the University of Minnesota, and Spencer Kagan, have researched and developed programs that have fine-tuned Cooperative Learning to a science. The problem, however, is that oftentimes, the connection between Cooperative Learning and technology is overlooked. Unfortunately, some teachers get so caught up in the excitement of the tool, that they may lose sight of the learning. Also, turning students loose on a wiki does not guarantee that any “learning” occurs. The philosophy of “If you build it, they will come,” should be changed to “If you build it, they will come…but they may not do anything.”

Enter Cooperative Learning.

A way to ensure learning in a tech-based collaborative activity is to structure the Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability into the lesson. Let’s take for example, a collaborative writing assignment using a wiki. The “typical” wiki involves a large number of students adding text, images, and links to a rather substantial document. Many successful projects have been created this way; however I would like to offer another possibility. We must first realize that the terms “wiki” and “collaborative writing” are as interchangeable as the terms “stove” and “baking a cake.” The former is a tool, the latter, a process.

Many times in wikis, students add, but are reluctant to edit the work of others—and rightly so. When collaborating on a Google Doc with fellow presenters, I would not consider editing or deleting work of my colleagues. As a result, most wikis take on the look of a patchwork quilt, with each “panel” reflecting the ideas of a single individual. Don’t get me wrong, the quilt model can fulfill some great objectives; however, for a true collaborative writing process, the final product needs to resemble, not a quilt, but a blanket. To achieve this, teachers, once again must embrace those Cooperative Learning structures in cyberspace, that they did in their classrooms.

Positive interdependence: We are better together than alone. Johnson and Johnson identify twelve types of Positive Interdependence, and further go on to state that for a lesson to succeed, at least three need to be present. A wiki assignment constructed properly can have at least four. Goal interdependence relies on the teacher creating a challenge for the students to create a compelling document. A unified vision of that goal is essential. Role interdependence is achieved by assigning specific, unique roles to individuals in the group. Each may be responsible for drafting a particular section and revising another. Environment interdependence becomes inherent within the wiki itself. If students have a part in creating a unique space they tend to take more ownership; therefore, I encourage student to select color schemes, titles, and images to “dress up” the assignment…that is, after the text is completed. Task interdependence relates closely to “Role.” “Task” is the idea that one portion may not be completed unless another’s task is completed. Veronica cannot edit the segment unless Jonathan drafts it, and so on.

Individual Accountability: EVERYONE learns One of the common criticisms of “Group Work” is that an unequal distribution of work and learning often results. In order to ensure that everyone participates, contributes, and learns, the teacher must structure several layers of individual accountability. First, wiki groups should contain no more than four members, and two or three is actually more desirable. Identifying roles and assessing is much more realistic in a group of three. Furthermore, “hiding” among three people is very difficult. Also, teachers must assess the project at various times during the project. Teachers need to assess and give feedback at the outlining, drafting, revising, and publishing stages. Also, since most wikis have history features, teachers need to continually view the participation of each member.

Admittedly, even though these technologies are relatively new, these concepts are not. When I first attempted a collaborative writing project via a wiki, the results were far below what I expected. Achievement soared only when I applied Cooperative Learning strategies.
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Department Meeting to Remember

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with our world language teachers. They had invited me to talk and share some “technology” with them. I decided to solicit some of the WL teachers who are already on the edge to share some of their successes. Fellow department members have much more street-cred than I do. This was important since (like many groups of teachers) there was a wide range of ages, experience, and tech know-how.
I gave these volunteers one “rule”: Show the success, NOT the tech.
What followed was an incredible sharing of learning successes I have not seen in a long time.
Bob, a Spanish teacher, and a fellow tech guy, shared wikis that students created on Aztec and Mayan culture, complete with text, images, multiple pages, and hyperlinks. Bob went on to tell how the research generated by students was then used by the entire class. Yes, that’s Jon’s fist pumping in the back of the room. Another teacher commented, “Wow, it looks so professional…like a real web page!”
French teacher Isabelle showed “group blogs” where students wrote stories in French, then commented on each others’ grammar, diction, and syntax. One observer noticed “Reading this is like getting inside the kids’ minds.”
German teacher Trish uploaded segments of a story her kids are reading as mp3 files. After listening in class, students can go home, log on, and replay the segments in case they missed something. Next step? Download the files on the iPod…so they can listen to it again, and again.
Sarah shared how her students used goanimate to create simple stories in German. The advantage was that kids had to sync movements with words, thus demonstrating their vocab skills. Sure it is a “fun” tool, but colleagues were impressed with the level of sophistication of diction.
Jennifer shared how her ELL kids complete a Digital Story using Photo Story 3, describing a “real” or “make believe” vacation and classmates need to decide if it was real or not. Aside from the obvious creativity unleashed, Jennifer was impressed with the way that kids have the ability to speak, listen immediately, process, and rerecord better. All of this can be honed without fear of embarrassment, since there is no other audience during creation. Then when the final product is finished, it’s a matter of hitting “play.”

The buzz that these presentation created was palpable…excitement, confusion, and clarity permeated the room—not to mention the pride that the “expert” teachers clearly had.
I gave the group a single charge: make the effort to use ONE technique this year, just one.

From the reaction, I think they will.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Global Awareness and RSS

RSS. At first glance, most people recognize this as an efficient method for channeling information directly to the consumer. But, is that all there is?
Creating RSS feeds for students is not brand new either. For a project, researchers can not only get feeds to news sources, but can create “custom” feeds as well. Let’s say two students are researching Global Warming and decide to get a news feed from a national source. Miguel gets his from Fox, Ashley, from CNN. Needless to say, these two students are going to receive considerably different information on the topic.

The problem? The information is coming from a single source. Solution: Create a custom RSS feed through Google. Here’s how it’s done: After a typical search (hopefully, using advance search features), click the News link on the top left. Then click the sort by date link. This will show the most recent news hits on the “news” web. From here, click the RSS link on the bottom left, and copy the new URL in your Google Reader. You now have a custom feed on the topic from a variety of sources.

But there’s one problem.

Chances are, these news sources, although varied, will reflect a very “American” view of the situation. Many forward thinkers have stressed the need to create “global citizens,” and a sense of empathy and awareness of cultures, beliefs, and attitudes world wide. Unfortunately, history tells us that Americans have an especially egocentric view of the world. One way to increase understanding is to add another step to the creation of the custom feed by including a “Country Code” to the search. To do this, add to your search words “site:” followed by the two-letter country code. This way, you will get returns ONLY from news sources in that country (Just one of many advanced search features on Google).

Imagine the possibilities.

Today I did staff development on RSS, and when I mentioned this technique, the light bulbs went off. Imagine reading the news on topics from the other side. Here are a few ideas for “localizing” searches:

“Nuclear” from the perspective of North Korea

“Satellite” from Iran’s point of view (I did this, actually…very eye-opening)

“The Gaza Strip” Doing not one but two separate feeds and comparing. You can guess the countries.

Now, what can students do with this information? At very least, some ignorance will be snuffed.

But think of the discussions:

“What would cause them to believe this?”

“What does this information suggest about the culture?”

“What is their opinion of our country?”

“How much can we trust their news sources?”

And, therefore, how much can we trust ours?

Hopefully, all of these questions can lead to some reflection

and maybe, some empathy, tolerance, and compassion.

Image By Flickr Contributor poederbach

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Seduced by Novelty

It’s a new year, and with it comes more and more tools for teachers to use in the classroom. In my Twitter group, I still hear about more and more ideas that I can barely keep up with. Perhaps keeping up isn’t what it’s all about.

It never fails, I will be at my desk, doing research on bleeding edge technology, bookmarking sources, cross referencing…and the phone rings. A teacher wants to know how to set up a blog so other students can see posts, but not comments she makes to the students.Some may sigh and think, “A blog…that’s so last year.” However, my reaction is this: “This teacher didn’t even know what a blog was last year, and now she’s tweaking it to help her students…yes!”

The point is this: we sometimes get seduced by the novelty of a new tool or idea and want to do it faster than our colleagues. Well, perhaps instead of faster, we can do it better. I can honestly say that in 25 years of teaching I have stolen far more ideas than I have created. However, those ideas I have stolen I have tried to adapt and refine to best meet the needs of my students. The goal is not to be the quickest to apply new strategies, it is to wisely select the tools that create meaning and extend student learning.

Often, teachers learn that a tool exists, try it, and unfortunately move on.It’s one thing to say “I am doing a wiki with my kids,” and yet quite another to use the wiki tool as a means to extend the learning beyond what could have been done without it. Perhaps we need to revisit some “old” technologies (meaning older than this week) to make sure we are getting the most out of them.

Microsoft Word More than just word processing, Word contains literally dozens of features that enhance learning. One of my favorites is the comment feature which allows teacher or peers to neatly add comments in the margin. The viewer can read, revise (or ignore) and then quickly delete the comments for the final draft. Auto summarize allows the reader to have Word “highlight” key points. This is great to make sure topic sentences are truly topic sentences. Using the thesaurus wisely (yes, teaching is involved!) can increase a student’s vocabulary by recognizing subtle differences in connotations and select just the right word. And the list goes on.

Microsoft Powerpoint Clearly, the most abused software in schools, can be a powerful visual aid. However, too often the slides upstage the presenter, and at worst, become a teleprompter. Teaching students basic visual literacy through Powerpoint can be quite valuable. Color awareness and using as few words as possible on screen greatly enhance presentations. I have gone so far is to allow a maximum number of slides (5?) and words (say, 15 in the whole presentation). This puts the onus back on the star of the presentation: the presenter, not the software.

Digital Storytelling True, I do have a soft spot in my heart for DST, but that doesn’t diminish the power that it can create in the classroom. Focus on story and revision instead of flash and effects (in other words, avoid programs like Animoto). I find that the constant viewing of images along with listening to words enables students to greatly improve their writing. Encourage students to use images that metaphorically represent emotions rather than only literal representations. I picture of a lightning bolt may serve better than a one of “mom angry.”

Screencasts The value of using screencasts as a “how to” is undeniable. But here’s another idea: Why not have students create the screencasts? They could be used as a meta-cognitive tool to allow students to reflect on, say, a research project, and demonstrate for the teacher (and themselves) how they may have discovered a source, paraphrased a passage, or revised their thesis. Viewing these could give teachers a snapshot of what’s going on inside their brains (Thanks to Scott Meech for inspiring me to think about this).

Blogs OK, everyone reads them and more and more people seem to be writing them. But what role do they play for learning? Here are two ideas: First, we need to embrace some professional blogs as credible resources for supporting research. Professionals are constantly referring to colleagues’ blogs, so why aren’t students? And there’s a bonus: Students can actually ask the experts questions…and possibly get a response! I wish I would have been able to do that 30 years ago. Of course, we need to teach students to evaluate credibility of sources, as well as bias. The second idea (again, not new) is to set up individual blogs for every student, which are used as a means to record the writing and thinking experience of the entire course. The best feature is that it creates a means for continual communication between student and teacher allowing for a substantial “Assessment for Learning.” Teachers can even copy rubrics, highlight and comment on work, and view multiple drafts.

Wikis In an earlier post, “Turbo-Charged Wikis” I stress the important of Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability. One of the best ways to achieve this in a collaborative writing experience (a rather sophisticated process) is to: limit participants to three or four per group, assign specific roles, and assess the work frequently. This will overcome the two biggest problems associated with wikis in school which are inequitable work distribution and the “quilt phenomenon” which occurs when students write their own section with little regard for what their collaborators have written. And here’s another idea: research supports that when students take a role in creating their own rubrics, they achieve more. How about a wiki that enables students to collaborate on the rubric itself.

Google Clearly the most conspicuous presence on the web, some educators shy away from this Goliath, or write it off as passé. Nothing could be further from the truth. Google has embraced education and offers more tools for student (and teacher) learning than you could possibly use in a career. If you don’t have an account, get one, and start looking. My new fave is the Life photo archives on Google. Try it! Also, if you get the opportunity to become a Google Certified teacher, I highly recommend it.

Creation software, Blogs & wikis, digital storytelling, and Google are entrenched in our lexicon so deeply, that it is hard to imagine a time when they weren’t. But just because they’ve been around for a while doesn’t mean their importance in the classroom has diminished. On the contrary, the acceptance of these tools in the mainstream has gotten us past the novelty concept where the tool du jour becomes the driving force. Now we can get back to “What do I want my students to do?” and use the repertoire of tools when the time is right.

So what are some "old" tools you're utilizing better than ever? Please share!

Image courtesy of Flickr contributor aaronfreimark.