Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Hidden Agendas

80% of my teaching assignment this year will entail American Government. One of the principles that I often emphasize is how essential transparency is to a democracy. It's the reason for the free speech and a free press. It's the reason the Supreme Court has offered special protection to political speech. Elections mean nothing without an informed electorate.

I don't get on my soap box often in class, but one position I do advocate is remedying the problem of lobbying by "special interests" by bringing full transparency to the process. Besides documenting campaign donations, the amount of time our representatives meet with registered lobbyists should be a matter of public record as well. If Senator Snort has been is having his ear bent by this group or that, I'd like to know before I cast my vote.

Now, here comes the segue: I advocate transparency in the classroom, as well.

Besides offering them complete syllabi and instructions, I try to explain to them why we spend time with our resources and activities. But I do not only talk to them about their goals. I come clean with mine as well. Today. I will tell them why we are engaging in Challenge Based Learning and what I hope they gain. from it. I will also let them know that I will be evaluate the process and share the results with other teachers. their education makes them the major stakeholders, but I'm deeply invested, too.

As I hope my online course descriptions show, I try to be up front with the parents as well. I tell them about myself and the course, but I share assignments and methods. As, I recenlty mentioned in my Parent Night post, I wish to give every impression that I am passionate about teaching, and that there is method to the madness of my innovations. Hopefully, this will encourage them to buy-in.

I've dropped the password protection on my Moodle courses and licensed any materials I've authored in the Creative Commons. This means colleagues can visit my resources and borrow freely with attribution.

Now that I have begun to give professional development presentations, I always try to share my motivations, both altruistic and selfish. For example, I have been telling audiences that I want to continue giving presentations. Of course the only way this is likely to happen is if I give good ones! In school, I've openly stated that I would like comp time to develop curriculum and help groups of teachers problem solve with technology. I don't see any harm to laying out such an agenda.

In both democracy and education I have little patience with hidden agendas.
"Green Opaque Flaws" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Fubar843

Monday, September 28, 2009

Follow Your Passion....Connect Your Dots.

My blog title, "Follow your Passion....Connect Your Dots" comes from some notes from the ADE Institute that I tapped out on my iPod Touch. (I'm not sure who said it, the context, or even if it is exact). The metaphor speaks very strongly to my experience.

Connecting with Others (Input)
I was one of the first people in my professional circle to really "get into" a listserv. Shakesper was a revelation to me. Having online exchanges with the giants of academia like John W. Velz and Stanley Wells was unspeakably exciting for a high school teacher like myself. Now, I do the majority of reading for news, sports, education, and tech based on the blogs and articles that come my way from my RSS Reader and Twitter.

Connecting with Others (Input)
The Opinion Drive-thru was originally a political blog. During the Obama nomination campaign I actually posted blogs simultaneously on my Obama page where it was more frequently read. Sometimes I posted podcasts. Sometimes I posted on educational subjects. (Usually I didn't post at all). But these were my fledgling efforts to connect-- narcissistic to be sure, by fulfilling a need to reach a wider audience. A year ago I got my Flip camera and began to learn iMovie. Now I have a YouTube channel. I make movies with Keynote, PhotoToMovie, and iMovie. For the past four months it has been a great hobby and a nice outlet for my ideas, knowledge, and opinions.

A Reflection
Some of my friends seem to be suffering from the insularity of their school. They are tired of the same old office politics. They strike me as paranoid and deeply anxious, suffering cases of classic "burn out". Connecting with others has spared me this fate. As I started my thirty-fifth year of teaching, I realized that I no longer saw my work as exclusively taking place in a building or classroom. I have the strongest self-image that I have possessed as a professional: I see myself with a unique set of abilities for integrating the Read/Write web with curriculum. I enjoy this sense of uniqueness and like sharing it with an inner circle of colleagues and with fellow educators around the globe.

I wake up most days looking forward to connecting more dots-- not a bad way to meet the day.
"Connecting the Dots" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Irina Souiki

Friday, September 25, 2009

Parent Night, Multimedia Style

Like most schools we have an open house early in the school year. Ours is called "Parents Night", which primarily involves the parents following their daughter's schedule , spending about ten minutes with each teacher.

We generally have a good turnout, so most of us try to bring our "A" game. In recent years, I've tried to add some flavor. When digital photo frames were new, I took a photo of each student in my home room group and had the frame running when their folks came by. Last year I used iPhoto and projected the album on screen with a data projector. This show was accompanied by music as the parents arrived. I could tell most folks liked it.

But last night, I went much farther. In addition to the photo slideshow for homeroom, I created a Keynote presentation for each class. The first slide is a photo of the class. This was easy to manage, because everyone was enthusiastic about being photographed on the first day of school. The slideshows took a couple of hours to whip up-- a little longer because I included some audio files. Here's a pdf version (sorry, no audio).

Why take the trouble to do this instead of just showing up and giving my spiel as usual? Because, indeed, the medium is the message. I wanted the presentation to be dynamic and memorable. I wanted to give the parents of taste of why I am trying to crank up the technology in their daughter's class.

As it turned out, I will definitely do it again. Amazingly, the presentations had almost perfect timing (pure luck). And the parents were pretty darned locked in. Next time around I will do the "about me" segment as a quick animation build and focus more of my very limited time on the curriculum. I think it's quite likely that I can reuse much of the formatting and even some of the slides, next year. Bottom line: The extra time prepping for "Parents' Night" was time well spent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paging All Waivers!

This year I was prepared.

But last time around I introduced WikiSpaces and Google Docs to my students mid-term. My adventures were not without setbacks (see Larry's Adventures in Wikiland), but some of the groups and individuals produced remarkable podcasts, videos, web sites and wikis. So then I decided that I wanted to share, blog about, or just show off their work. Consequently, I was generating ad hoc notifications and permission slips throughout the year.

This summer I whipped up three notification / waivers for my three courses. Check out the one I prepared for American Government (Click for pdf).

The document was made with iWork '09. I used a brochure template and found the banner with a public domain search. The Pages application allowed me to easily match the colors of the banner throughout the document. I thought the coolest feature was my ability to drop the public domain photo of the capitol dome into the background of the document. (A one minute Atomic Learning tutorial taught me this trick). Even a clod like me could produce a slick looking document and publish it as a pdf.

My students' first assignment of the semester was to download this document, get it signed and return it to class.

100% of them have done so, and only one parent declined any of the permissions. Pretty cool.

Photo is a screen capture of Lit into Film course waiver.

Monday, September 21, 2009

First Renewed and then Re-olded

A friend of mine recently said that I was the only teacher she knew who was really looking forward to the start of the school year. While some may see this as a sign of mental disorder, I prefer to think that it has much to do with getting into technology integration-- I've felt renewed by the fun and challenge. But I'm starting to feel a bit reolded. There are crusty old features of our school routine that kind of wear me down. I'm feeling a little grumpy, so I've decided to air them out.

We have a 1:1 computing school, but some folks in my building must believe that online communication only belongs in the academic realm of a school. (I'm sure this is not unique to our school community and would love to hear from others). These are the kinds of things distractions and annoyances I'm talking about:

P.A. Messages- It's too easy to just grab the mic and broadcast a message across the building with a P.A. blast, (even though it may be during class). Often the full school announcement is directed to a couple of class officers or concerns one person's misplaced backpack. Tryouts for teams or groups are announced day after day. Never mind that everyone has their own private communication access in the form of a laptop. A couple of years ago, $50,000.00 was raised at one of our fund-raisers for a new P.A. system. Wow, in my opinion that money could have better spent on more nuanced mediums of messaging or training for individuals on how to set up a group email for their club or team.

Student email-- This piggybacks on the last one. Ironically, I recently sat in a department meeting where a request from our Curriculum Council was shared, asking that we remind the students to check their email. Could it be that the students don't check their email because they know that the messages will be redundantly communicated on the P.A., often several times? (And was this a worthy agenda item for the face-to-face meetings where the rather impotent request was made?).

Staff Meetings (large and small) where one-way communication from behind a podium is featured. Face to face communication may not needed for reports and directions that could be blogged or emailed, but those with the power to gather a captive audience, squander dozens of potentially productive hours of staff time this way. I've noticed that this kind of communication usually involves non-curricular matters.

Vote Tabulations - This "Spirit Week" we will be doing tabulations in our homerooms this week to determine how many students are showing spirit that day. OK, fine, I'm all for spirit. but then staff is required to take these required to immediately walk these paper tallies to the front desk for tabulation. What a waste of fifty professionals' time, when there are innumerable electronic alternatives. Granted this example is only a one week sideshow, but it is somewhat representative of the nondigital nature of our homeroom doings.

You are correct that if you have concluded that I am blowing off steam about pet peeves. But in a 1:1 school they need to be called out. Besides disrespecting others' time and attention these "old tech" habits erode progress toward building a school culture that nourishes 21st Century communication networks. This is about all staff modeling and embracing the new tools that we hope our students will master. The medium is sending the wrong message.

Amish Parking Sign Flickr CC photo by margotmiller

Friday, September 18, 2009

Baker Manifesto (part 3)-- Bridging the Great Divide

In parts one and two I explained how I have come to embrace George Siemens' educational model of Connectivism. But my past blog posts,
have noted that many educators resist the technologies which make the best features of Connectivism possible. And too often tech evangelicals actually motivate the resistors to dig in. Consider the following blog exchange that debated whether cell phones should be allowed in the classroom:

None of this is new. Socrates and Diogenes opposed literacy and writing on the same grounds you oppose phones - they disrupt the learning environment - the cognitive authority environment - preferred by the teacher. Monks opposed Gutenberg technology on similar grounds. Schools long fought the use of film and television, even typewriters. Today, educators continue to fight against utilizing the technologies of communication which define our age. An endless retrograde action which ensures that "ability" and "disability" remain traditionally defined and that power never changes hands.

So what you are espousing is that the world bend to the student? That the teacher, with all their knowledge and experience, knows less about what a student will need to learn what the teacher knows? Sounds arrogant to me. You make it sound as if no learning can take place if the student can't have their mobile. What did students in America do before 2005?

The vehemence reflected in these views is not unusual when it comes to technology integration in schools. So how could such disparate views ever be reconciled in a school building?

I actually think that the Connectivism model itself goes far toward crossing this great divide. I was struggling with this issue when preparing a staff development proposal for my school administration, last winter. After Siemens reviewed my white paper, he pointed out,

We have different groupings of people when we take different perspectives. A "naysayer" in technology may be a "pathfinder in pedagogy". . . .The development of technology use (PD) and culture is important, as you state. It's worth drawing distinctions between the different roles we play in fostering change...and the stages we need to consider.

Connectivism holds out the prospect that each member of a learning network (for instance, a school faculty) could contribute at different points to a learning challenge (for instance, whether/how to use technology). Siemens hypothesizes that

A tipping point occurs when [an idea] has created a strong enough network to begin to influence the entire thought process.

He proposes "using . . . the IRIS Model for creating change around technology in organizations: "Innovation, Research, Implementation, Systemization."

I think that Connectivism not only offers a model of student instruction-- it is provides a process for changing a school's entire technology culture. I envision innovative pilot programs planting the seeds of change within a school or district. If the innovation is properly hooked into the network, change can occur within networked teachers, who can then help kids build their own learning networks. This is a pardigm shift to be sure, but it's one that can evolve if a collaborative environment is cultivated, allowing the school to become a vehicle for all members of the network to obtain and share knowledge from a virtually limitless number of connections.

"Rio-Antirio Bridge" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Ava Babili

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Baker Manifesto (part 2) -- Connectivism

As I indicated in part one, my interest in and authorship of Web 2.0 educational activities has led me to George Siemens' evolving model of "Connectivism".
Here's a sampling so that you get the gist:

*The strong reflexive and iterative aspects of learning contribute to its frequent misclassification as largely a content consumption process.

*Learning is not the content consumption process the formal education system perceives it to be.

*Instruction is currently largely housed in courses and other artificial constructs . . . Moving towards a networked model requires that we place less emphasis on our tasks of presenting information, and more emphasis on building the learner’s ability to navigate the information.

*Blogs, wikis, and other open, collaborative platforms are reshaping learning as a two-way process. Instead of presenting content/information/knowledge in a linear sequential manner, learners can be provided with a rich array of tools and information sources to use in creating their own learning pathways.

When I asked George to review the Staff Development Plan I submitted to our Technology Integration Committee (and administration), he responded with an incisive review that he said I might share. In my next post I will place this review in the context of what I consider to be a great divide between those who see learning as presenting information and those who perceive education as navigating the information flow. Stay tuned.

"Connexions Digital Networks" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by cstmweb

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Ed Tech Manifesto (part 1)-- Creeping toward Connectivism)

I have never really contemplated my "educational philosophy." Even on my first job applications out of college, I fudged that section, blurring principles with methods. This is in part because I am a practical person. I'm willing to compromise and change course. When I coached basketball, I adapted my approach to the players rather than teach them my offensive or defensive "philosophy".

Also, my formal introduction into educational philosophy and was a bit of a disaster. Rebounding from the Sixties, my profs were all about completely open schools and Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Once my grad assistant teachers simply brought two children to our class, and we watched them play for half an hour. The profound lesson of this escaped me. I think it had something to do with not letting these poor innocents become just another brick in the wall.

So why would I start musing about educational philosophy in my thirty-fifth year of teaching? Well, as usual for me these days, it's the unintended consequence of my tech activities. Through the Fall of '08, I had been consumed with the classroom ramifications of the read/write Web. Then, in winter '09, I grappled with writing a staff development proposal for our tech integration committee. In it I called for changing the school culture by establishing school wide social media"projects":

Staff would engage in the same kinds of collaboration experiences we wish to provide our students. And really, if the school is committed to the program, no one should be exempt through special pleading of being "too busy."

Since writing those words I came across a statement by faire alchemist that nailed what I was going for:

. . . .computers have been around for a long time. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the network itself. We're talking about the paradigm of immediate global connection. [We need to] engage this thing for the benefit of the students who are already living their own lives in this digital domain,

When I was drafting my staff development plan I shot it off to several experts, requesting feedback. A thoughtful, nuanced reply came from George Siemens. His paradigm of "connectivism"-- hit me right between the eyes. . . .and is the subject of part 2 (September 16 post).

"Skirt on a Box Bike" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Mark Stosberg

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why Blog?

When I first started blogging at the Drive-thru, my intended focus was political. I suppose I intended to air out the issues of the day, spark debate, and gather an audience. That didn't last long. I simply didn't feel like I was adding much new to the topics that had already been chewed over before I got to them.

When I shifted the Drive-thru to an instructional technology focus, I still hungered for an audience and hoped to-- at least within my own building-- foster discussion on a subject that had really captured my imagination. I track my readership numbers pretty carefully and feel a special surge of motivation when the posts attract comments. But I have come to realize that blogging has important value to me regardless of how widely it is read or how much social interaction it generates.

Blogging actually helps me stay committed to my experiments." While not exactly a matter of "keeping me honest", the public record created by blogging helps me to carry out my intentions. If I mention at the Drive-thru that I am trying a new techie trick, invariably I report back, even if I wiped out. Being willing to risk and experience those failures is critical to innovation.

Blogging on a regular schedule also encourages me to read more widely and turn over more rocks, looking for posting ideas. It encourages me to try new tools and pilot new strategies in the classroom. In this way, feeding the blog has actually contributed to my professional development.

Most importantly, like a journal, the writing in the Web log forces me to think hard about what I believe about education. Next week, I am returning to my three posts a week schedule (M,W,F) and I am going to begin with a three part "manifesto" of what amounts to my ed tech philosophy. Certainly this is not a subject likely to increase my readership, but it's been a great mental exercise. With over a hundred ed tech blog posts under my belt, I am ready to bite off and chew some educational philosophy at the Drive-thru.

"We Love Blog" Flickr Creative Commons photo by kawade

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Planning a High School Web 2.0 Project

This post was inspired by a comment to my Real Projects with Real Problems post. aml asked,

What if a hypothetical teacher were considering . . . embarking on some kind of project adventure in a course next fall? . . . .What would be the first steps? And how much do you think this not-entirely-tech-savvy but willing-to-do-some-heavy-lifting teacher could accomplish without having to run to the in-house tech gurus every day?

Here's my current thinking on this great question:

Dear aml,

I think without any doubt that anyone willing to roll up her sleeves, as you are, can accomplish a great deal by going down this road. Will it be frustrating at times? Absolutely. Can it be exciting? Without a doubt!

Ideally, you could find a partner (or partners) for this venture The advantage of partners would be shared skills and ideas.
and/or just bite off a corner piece of a project you have in place.

Is it possible to bite off a corner piece of a project you have in place? If you think of your project as modular, then you are less likely to feel overwhelmed (As you may recall, I am a big fan of the Tinker Toy Curriculum).

Choose a curriculum area that you are itchy to overhaul, anyway, so that you don't feel that inevitable first-time tech issues aren't messing up something that used to be cool.

Don't put yourself in the position of teaching much of the tech. You'll be hip deep even if you take something very familiar.
Speaking of familiar-- prefer it. At our school a critical mass of kids have now experienced Google Sites and Blogger, so they can help each other.

Freeware is all the rage, but as you know first hand with Gabcast, you can have the rug pulled out from under you, so if we're keeping it free, this would be another reason to start with Google. They change the rules too, but they don't instantly drop support for an app, and they will not vanish overnight.

I you know of another teacher who has used the app, talk to him or her about its pitfalls before going blindly ahead (You'll bump your head as I have done).

*As part of your heavy lifting set up a prototype for the students which will be useful for teaching the kids and learning the stuff yourself.

*Consider having the students create something that can be shared with or taught to an audience beyond the class. (highly motivational).

*I urged groups to set a time lime for when different phases should be done. This really helped with accountability. But be forewarned (the project based learning gurus never tell you this), students are as likely to let down their peers as their teacher.

*Share your progress with others. Blog about it, tweet about it, Ning about it. Lots of us want you to succeed and will commiserate with your frustrations.

*License your project with Creative Commons. Web 2.0 is all about mixing, mashing, collaborating, sharing.

Best of luck. I'm hoping that you will tell us about your experience with a guest blog at the Drive-thru.


"Dream Big" Flickr Creative Commons photo by bebop717

Friday, September 4, 2009

Apps & Sites Worth Revisiting

I would like to revisit some web sites and applications that I now lean on even more heavily than when I first recommended them:

Magnatune In Transcending Words (and copyright!) I recommended Magnatune as a source of Creative Commons music-- pieces by professional musicians that you are free to use so long as you give attribution. Each day I get a "Free Song of the Day"in my inbox. These have added up to a wonderful collection of music from which to draw for my projects. I now go to this playlist regularly for my movies and slide shows. A majority of freebies are classical and ambient, but I have found some wonderful electronic and blues music too. Excellent stuff.

Garageband I only use one little piece of GarageBand-- its podcasting feature-- but I have lbecome so hooked that I will enthusiastically present a break out session on this feature at MAPSA. It is so elegant, yet so simple. Now I can mix and edit my own mp3 productions with ease. Adding a Logitech USB Desktop Microphone, has even further upgraded my podcasts.

PhototoMovie These days, I often I produce an GarageBand narraton and then drop it right into PhototoMovie. This is the best $50 I spent these summer. Another simple application (Do you see a pattern, here?), PhototoMovie allows the user to add jpegs to narration or music and quickly piece together a movie that can be shared on YouTube. I have now produced several, like the Werner Herzog Filmography (play a few seconds of it in order to listen for the Magnatunes theme music by Lawrence Cresswell).

iTunesU Go to the iTunes store and visit iTunesU with its plethora of free video and audio podcasts from Duke, Stanford, Yale, NY Public Library, Library of Congress, New York Metropolitan Museum, Holocaust Museum etc. Using PhototoMusic I produced this little iTunes Preview to insert into a Keynote presentation I will make in October to Mame36.

Twitter "Enough already about Twitter," you may say. After all, I sang its praises in Why Twitter? But I use it more heavily than FaceBook or any other social media. Since the summer institute, many fellow ADEs have joined. Furthermore, some of the savvier sports journalists in town have jumped in as well. I find myself checking for filtered tweets half a dozen times a day. An addiction? No way. The majority of my professional, sports and political reading now comes from blogs that are linked by Twitter or my Google Reader.

"Summer Revisited for Hope" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Madmoiselle Lavender

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Searching for Authentic Learning in S-7

I am planning my challenge based social studies projects for the coming school year with several objects in mind. Paramount among them is striving for authentic learning.

Marilyn M. Lombardi (Duke University) says that researchers have distilled the authentic learning experience to ten design elements:

Real-world relevance
Students identification of tasks and subtasks
Sustained investigation
Multiple sources and perspectives
Reflection (metacognition)
Interdisciplinary perspective
Integrated assessment
Polished products
Multiple interpretations and outcomes

I think this is an exciting approach to curriculum, but I expect significant student resistance. They are conditioned to figuring out what the teacher wants, and some of the most motivated students simply want the teacher to tell them what to do, so they can do it and possibly exceed the teacher’s expectations. How will things go when I ask the students set their own expectations and complete their own assessments? Will they balk at collaboration? How much assistance will they need to critically assess their sources and develop probing questions for their investigations?

On the other hand, I think the “real world relevance of the challenge based projects may be highly motivating them. I’m sure that I will learn more than they will, next semester.You can naturally expect that my reflections on what happens in S-7 will show up at the Drive-thru in a couple of months.
"Authentic" Flickr Creative Commons photo by ara_p

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