Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bulging Pockets

Like most edubloggers, this post is sort of a “back-to-school” one. However, instead of offering a motivational charge, I would like to share with you an account of a very encouraging day I had last week.

Last Wednesday morning I led the annual new teacher training. I am allotted three hours to get new teachers up and running on our system at school. You know, logins, email, grade book…essentials, but not necessarily translating to student achievement. This year I decided to get through the mechanics as quickly as possible, and use our remaining time to work with teachers on how to develop a more student-centered classroom, and how to use some of our available applications to change the way our kids learn. The morning was the most successful session we’d had. Their eyes widened and their enthusiasm rose when they realized this wouldn’t be a “how to” tech session. Instead, once the group opened up, it became a sharing of ideas which would result in actual change. I was also pleased to see that many of these “new” teachers were quite adept at many of the applications we used. My confidence swelled when a show of hands revealed that many of them already had Google accounts, used social bookmarking, and some were already blogging. And the best news yet? Not all of them were fresh out of college. The age of the “new” teachers ranged from early twenties to, well, as old as I am. So much for “Digital Natives.”

After the meeting I was stopped by my associate principal. He was wondering if I could help staff with Learning Teams. Two years back, we adopted the DuFour model of a Professional Learning Community. He had said that teachers were frustrated with the limited time they had in meeting face to face with Learning Teams, and needed to know how to create some new “learning spaces” (HIS term) to allow access and promote a more 24-7 chance to work on sharing ideas and creating common assessments. He wanted to know if I could teach the staff how to utilize applications such as existing tools in our content management system as well as Google Docs, Forms, and Moderator. Hmm, a chance to do systemic training? Count me in.

Later that day, I met with a journalism teacher who, wanted to do what was best for her students, and develop a paperless, online school newspaper. She started with “I can’t, in good conscience, teach journalism in an archaic form.” She told me what she wanted, and we worked together to develop a way that her student staff could develop the school newspaper completely on line, including podcasts, and the ability to have the rest of the school comment on articles… all within our existing content management system.

This day just kept getting better and better.

Before I left, I decided to check my email. I saw a message from a teacher, previously on the technophobic side. She wanted to take all of the Effective Reading classes, put them in a group together that would allow them to write book reviews which other students could read, comment, and decide themselves whether they too wanted to read those books. She never mentioned the word “blog” but it didn’t matter. These kids would be writing for an authentic audience and purpose and would be responding, sharing and critiquing on line.

Someone pinch me.

Please understand that my purpose is not to brag about the teachers in my school; I am sure you have these same “pockets” of teachers who are doing great activities with their kids. The point is this: the pockets are bulging. I no longer have the same handful of trailblazers asking for assistance. These are the teachers who usually don’t seek me out for ideas. And what’s better, I no longer have as many people approaching me with a tool and asking me how to use it. Instead they have a vision, or design of a new idea, and are asking me how to do it. The ISTE NETS standards discuss “Systemic Change.” And while we are not there yet, we are nearing the Tipping Point of such change. Here’s to a great school year for all of us.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pecha Kucha or Digital Storytelling?

If you know me at all, you know about my love affair with the process of Digital Storytelling as a means to create community and to give students an authentic voice to share experiences and life lessons. The idea of developing a personal narrative and adding images, voice, and soundtrack and then recording it in a “permanent” form has developed into one of the most engaging activities for students (and others) to do.

While conducting a workshop on DST last year, I had a teacher who was rather ambivalent about the whole DST concept.  While he embraced the idea of melding words and images, he would have preferred an activity that incorporated a “live” presentation; he wanted to make sure that teachers did not substitute a Digital Storytelling assignment for a speech. I couldn’t agree more. There is no substitute for a live performance; an entire set of skills and learning targets come into play with any public speaking. I had told him that DST would “replace” something like a written narrative, not a live speech.  But the more I thought about it, he had a point. Could there be another possibility that was as engaging as DST yet live (And no, I am not referring to a speech with never-ending, bulleted list Powerpoint slides)?

Then I heard about Pecha Kucha (Pronounced: puCHA kuCHA).  First conceived as a Japanese bar game, (like Karaoke) the Pecha Kucha concept is deceptively simple: twenty consecutive images, each displayed to the audience for twenty seconds while the speaker presents live to the audience. For more information on Pecha Kucha and a sample from me (sort of) please go to my Digital Storytelling page Actually, the inception of Digital Storytelling by Dana Atchley and Joe Lambert stemmed from live performances anyway!

Last year at a conference in Illinois, I was asked to try my hand at Pecha Kucha. As a Digital Storyteller, I must say that the experience was quite a departure for me. The live concept was both exhilarating and a bit intimidating. I mean, in DST if something didn’t sound right or my timing was off, I could re record. But with Pecha Kucha, I was out there.  On the other hand, it was much more engaging for me the performer. I could respond to the audience and “ad lib” when appropriate. I performed it twice live and expectedly, each performance had its own subtle uniqueness.

True, there is not the “polished” feel of a Digital Story, but what it lacked in polish; it excelled in spontaneity and audience interaction.  What I found interesting was how the audience’s attention went back and forth between the screen and me, as if watching a tennis match. At times, they needed to watch the image while listening to my voice and at particular animated moments the attention was all on me. The other new sensation was that clock ticking in the back of my head. Pacing and development of ideas were always on my mind, and the question always loomed, “Is it going to change…now?”

So where does this all fit for teachers? Is there a place for it in my classroom? Can kids do it? Does it need to be 20 images? First I think there can be a situation for students doing Pecha Kucha, or at least a form of it.  Instead of a six-minute plus performance, maybe try ten images. I do like the twenty-second intervals; anything less does not allow for much development on the part of narration. The other point is that when assessing, I believe there needs to be a certain allowance for spontaneity. To me, a speaker engaging with the audience, for the sake of speaking in a “polished” manner should be rewarded. But maybe you feel think otherwise.

So your question may be “Which one should I have kids do?”  My answer would be both. You can NEVER have too much student creation.