Friday, May 28, 2010

Sarah on Social Media

Like Sarah, I used to think that social media such as Facebook only had utility only as a way for far-flung friends to stay in touch, share pictures, chatter about social life One could also amuse oneself and others by developing a clever and/or self-effacing persona.

Twitter changed all that for me. It revealed the power of personal learning networks. It allowed me to connect and breathe outside of the necessarily confining walls of school building. I can literally say that without social media, I'd still be doing my old "sage on stage" routine in the classroom.

Still, when Sarah's cbl group turned to Facebook as their means of "improving our democracy through an authentic medium", I was skeptical. I privately thought that they were "dumbing down" their project. My bad! As Sarah explains, what could be more "authentic" for young voters than Facebook.

Each of my project experiences has taught me important lessons along the way!

P.S. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the Drive-thru will have new posts twice a week.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Enriched by Networks

I'd be a different and poorer person without my PLN . In the last couple of weeks, I've

*Collaborated on Challenge Based Learning with an amazing educator in Nebraska.

*Shared secret techie anxieties and laughs with a middle school teacher in Colorado.

*Chatted about M-Hub with a doctor in Africa.

* Joked about the Tigers with a beat reporter as he covered the game.

* Joined a wonderful new and improved ADE community site. Apple challenges us, but makes us feel good about ourselves.

*Swapped music and blogging tips with a University student.

*Learned about cloud databases from a generous mind in Great Britain.

*Suggested a question to a beat reporter for an NBA press conference. He says he will ask it.

*Asked for advice about web sites from a journalist in China.

*Read interesting blogs, commented on interesting blogs, and written ... blogs

P.S. I've been collaborating with a peer on researching copyright-free music for student projects. Decided to add some Magnatune music to the site. Please indicate in poll whether to keep or ditch.
"Yellow Flower" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by introspectivo - Muito ocupado / Very busy's photostream

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nature or Nurture? What Makes Some Teachers, Reactionaries?

The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw.
Susan Collins

Most folks in education have . . . a difficult time imagining what they've not experienced. So it's hard to imagine how things can be done differently, whereas in business you have to constantly innovate in order to survive.
Randy Moore ( The Global Achievement Gap, p.144)

A couple of years ago. I was attending an English Department meeting at the request of the chair. Department members were upset about changes being opposed from the top. I heard reasonable arguments against the reforms, but the passion against change was disproportionate to the issue. The intensity seemed rooted in something much deeper and emotional. I was perplexed by this and said something about the attitudes being "reactionary". Some looked shocked, even hurt, as though I had cursed them. "Reactionary" obviously clashed with political ideologies or disposition toward reforming something other than their own curricula!

Maybe, I took a cheap shot, but I think it was right on. And it is true for many intelligent, engaging, and interesting teachers, today, who are fiercely, even blindly resistant to the changes threatened by technology.

Recently, I was sitting with my current academic department and found myself in a bubbling cauldron of fury against technology: When does administration expect us to learn this stuff?. . . . These kids are forgetting how to communicate face-to-face. . . . I don't want to change!

After listening to this for a while, I made a few points as diplomatically as I could:

*Not choosing to leverage our technology in a 1:1 private school puts us at a competitive disadvantage.

*We are never going to be able to recapture for their students some golden yesteryear of school that our memories hold dear. Texting, Facebook, YouTube, et. al., are already part of the mainstream culture.

* We need to change so that we could help our students compete and succeed in tomorrow's higher education and work environments.

Next school year 20% of my assignment will be devoted to shifting our school curriculum to a more student-directed model........Sometimes I wonder if I won't be trudging down to the rock quarry with a ball-peen hammer. (Wish me luck....unless you stand with the reactionaries!).

"Youth Escort" Flickr CC Photo by TheoJunior

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Latest M-Hub Hubbub

For those of you who have been following the progress of M-Hub, here's an update:

* Over 20 staff, students, and administrators have attended our two general meetings.

* We have held three core leadership meetings, two platform meetings, and one club life meeting.

* We have a logo (see side panel)

* We have a mission statement (M-Hub connects the Mercy community through personal networks, furthering the learning of our students).

* We have been recognized with official "club" status at the school. We sought this in order to involve more students in the project and root ourselves more deeply in the school culture.

* Most importantly, we have made tremendous strides towards identifying a platform upon which we can build our network. After meetings with staff from our Tech Department, Advancement Office, and our web designer we are guardedly confident that the M-Hub site can be built with drupal (the same back-end system used by the White House site!) and accessible to our students with their school IDs.

We have meetings scheduled this spring to discuss formats for our data collection. We also want are working on security and user policies. At this point we are confident that we can start collecting, recruiting, and building for our ambitious project in September.

Screen Shot from Apple Challenge Based Learning M-Hub page.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Sometimes the lights all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been.

From "Truckin'" -- Robert Hunter

I'm fascinated by how many times I've headed off in a direction with educational technology, only to end up in an unexpected location:

* The Web Warriors. A year ago, Rick Strobl and I began a web site to aggregate some of our favorite web tools. Rick did most of the work, and I had the hazy idea that the site would help promote with my ambition to make presentations outside of my school. How ironic then that the site would become such a dominant feature within Mercy's sophomore curriculum. For English and American Government most tenth graders are required to produce podcasts. The majority use Audacity, a free cross-platform sound editor. Rick installed tutorials and key download link for the application at our site. Now nearly every Mercy High School tenth grader goes visits the Web Warriors. Not exactly how I envisioned this working, but pretty cool all the same.

* After returning from the 2009 ADE Summer Institute, I was determined to try Challenge Based Learning with my American Government classes. I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I went ahead and wrote a proposal for a CBL presentation at 2010 MACUL. When I plunged into designing the CBL projects I expected it to radically effect my courses and students. What I did not anticipate was how much the students' ambitions would influence how I looked at networking and research. When my students began to fearlessly contact lawyers, judges, academicians, doctors, insurance agents, campaign managers, military officers, etc.; I decided to take networking to another level with M-Hub. My plan is to place students in touch with staff (past and present), parents, and alumnae for purposes like academic research or career guidance. The experience of engaging in CBL actually kicked me up to a new level of passion about and commitment to guiding students as they learn how to network.

I have no idea what strange destination the M-Hub Project may lead me to. But thus far, my tech treks have given me one helluva ride!
Screen Capture from Web Warriors

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seeding a Discussion with a Podcast

I have blogged about podcasts many times. After all, podcasts were essential in my decision to go bookless in my American Government class. But, I have also used podcasts for English which have utility for almost any course where teachers are pressed for time.

I always feel a time crunch in my Literature into Film class. After all, so much class time is spent watching the films. So the longer I teach the class, the less time I seem to spend discussing the literature. But some works, like One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, truly warrant some class analysis.

So for today's class, I have "seeded" our discussion of the novel by creating brief podcasts sketching out themes or symbols in the work. These presentations end with open ended questions for the students to consider. I assign the podcasts over night, and then jump right into the questions. "Cutting to the chase" allows me to avoid the tough choice between of dropping a film or skipping interesting discussions of the novels. Here's a sample:

Perhaps you are finding yourself in a time crunch as the semester winds down. I hope this helps.

"Free Spices" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by jasekemp

Friday, May 14, 2010

Raising the Bar and Beating the Cheaters

This week, I had three separate and intense conversations with other teachers about students plagiarizing sources and copying each others' homework. It's rampant in my school. And what's most alarming to me is that it's not even covert. I see students openly swapping assignments with one another and talking about what's on a given teacher's test.

I am not getting all high and mighty here. Recently one of my student's openly plagiarized from IMDB on a video. The kids were assigned to critique a film they had watched independently. She read plagiarized stuff. When confronted with a zero, she asked me to "cut her some slack" because she had only plagiarized part of the script and besides she has asked a friend for help and he fed her plagiarized stuff. Unbelievable.

As far as I can tell, it's all about gaming the system. The energy is put into finding short cuts and defeating those who would control their lives. It becomes almost second nature (Sparks Notes for any book) and even good-natured. (Everyone does it, so it's ok).

While I hold out no possibility for ridding the educational system of slackers and cheaters (students or adults), I do think that project learning helps to make a lot of this nonsense irrelevant, by placing the focus back on learning something. I've now tried several different projects based on the principles of Apple's Challenge Based Learning. The following elements help to eliminate cheating:

* Set the bar high with a challenge (and keep it up there!)

* Put the students in control of the project.

* Let them set the goals

* Refrain from telling them they "can't" or "shouldn't" unless absolutely necessary.

* Encourage them to think outside of the box.

* Hold your breath and hold them to the goals they set for themselves.

Of course I still get some dead beats, but since the projects are multi-dimensional, cheating provides few short cuts. If they are interviewing experts, producing media, and making a presentation, who exactly are they going to cheat from? But they'll either become engaged or not....and gaming this system is just way too hard for a slacker. And for those who really got into it, the learning is very authentic.

"Mannheim Track Meet" Flickr CC Photo by heraldpost

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In-Service: Six Months Later

Six months ago I conducted our staff in-service on Personal Learning Networks. It was a great experience, and I felt supported and affirmed.

So, what was the impact? Such days are notorious for fading quickly into the past. And its not like the staff was hungering for the information.

I can appreciatively reflect that the in-service has been sustained and supported by the school administration. They have called for all teachers to make building PLNs their "goal" for the school year, though I'm a bit unsure as to how this is being documented. But most importantly, the concept has remained part of the school's conversation at the top.

How this works "on the ground" is much more dubious. For example, when the "goals" for personal learning networks came up within my own department, not a single person could recollect what it personal learning network's were. I sat there stunned. It's probably a matter of jargon, but one can also surmise that I didn't exactly close the deal on social media with these folks.

Even more strange was the "shunning" I received from some staff members and in the days immediately after the in-service. This was particularly odd among some hallway neighbors. They simply did not talk to me about my day's presentation or even acknowledge it had happened. I'm pretty sure this had much more to do with their discomfort with the general topic of technology, rather than any particular insult I had delievered.

This is not to say that I have been discouraged by the lack of momentum created by my presentations. At the departmental level many new Nings that were created directly as the result of my presentation. Several teachers have also engaged their classes in Nings or wikis. Recently, many (including three administrators!) answered my call for M-Hub, which is based on the concept of PLNs. Furthermore, administration has asked me to continue promoting digital education in a formal way as part of my prep. I'm eager to do so.

I think it will take something big like M-Hub or to nudge the school culture. So I am hopeful that we can build upon the PLN foundation laid at the in-service. Only time will tell if it's been built on sand. Teachers are so incredibly conservative in their expectation and habits-- But that is a subject for a coming blog post.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Luc_Legay

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ten Thoughts for May 10

Erica Werner
A high school English teacher from Iowa who incorporates everything from singing to Facebook in her lessons has been recognized by President Barack Obama as the nation's top teacher. . . ."Her students don't just write five-paragraph essays, but they write songs, public service announcements, film story boards, even grant proposals for their own not-for-profit organizations . . . ."

Brad Overnell-Carter:
The iPad is a social tool, whereas smart phones and laptops are personal tools.

A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on a cold iron.

During oral arguments today in the case City of Ontario v. Quon . . . .Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. - who is known to write out his opinions in long hand with pen and paper instead of a computer - asked what the difference was “between email and a pager?”

People should be able to choose their own technology and tools - IT needs to learn this lesson fast.

Tom Witby
Technology in our society should be more than a topic for superintendents and principals to use in speeches in order to make them sound as if they are cutting-edge educators . . . . They sell the sizzle, but nobody will ever get to see the steak.

Oregon is the first state in the nation to sign up for Google Apps for Education in K-12 classrooms.

Marco Antonio Torres:
Being global is no longer sexy... it is mandatory.

Edison Research
Awareness of Twitter has exploded from 5% of Americans 12+ in 2008 to 87% in 2010 (by comparison, Facebook's awareness is 88%). Despite equal awareness, Twitter trails Facebook significantly in usage: 7% of Americans (17 million persons) actively use Twitter, while 41% maintain a profile page on Facebook.

When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.

"Strike a Pose" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by melodramabab

Friday, May 7, 2010

Give Swirrl a Whirl

If you have visited this blog lately, you know that my latest social media passion is something that I have named M-Hub. This stems from recent experiences with personal learning networks and Challenge Based Learning.

I aspire to create an online vehicle that would help students learn how to network. It would be a database of adult "experts" within the school community (parents, teachers, alumnae) which students could access for research on projects, careers, college, etc. M-Hub could help give them more autonomy over their own learning and lead them to authentic outcomes. And as Bill Roberts recently suggested to me, if set up properly, M-Hub "may be useful to put together 'topic pages' so that students can see the advice provided to others with similar questions."

Some very dynamic students, staff, and alumnae have responded with enthusiasm to the project, and we have moved forward at a faster pace than I ever imagined we might. One of our first quests has been to find a "platform" for the knowledge hub.

I quickly found out that "cloud" databases are few and far between. The wikis with which I was familiar were not helpful. There are plenty of cloud apps for word processing, spread sheets, and even slides, but databases are rare and most that might fit M-Hub's needs are prohibitively expensive.

But then I found Swirrl. It has many of the features that we are looking for:

*Ease of use
*Unlimited Users
*Search and Tags
*permission control
*revision history.

Swirrl is wiki designed as a database. Essentially each "page" of the wiki can store information, uploads, tags. And it's all highly searchable. What's more, the free version is rather generous-- 1000 pages and 100 mb of upload storage. I'm confident that teachers might find this useful for classroom or personal use.

I'm not sure that M-Hub will be using Swirrl, as our needs go beyond the "free" model, but I wanted to share this resource with my readers and also thank the Roberts brothers for helping me become acquainted with Swirrl and troubleshoot some of M-Hub's technical challenge.

Check it out and give Swirrl a Whirl!

Screen Shot of Swirrl home page

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Elegy on "Classroom Teacher"

Recently I wrote presentation proposals for MAME 37 and MAPSA. On one of the forms I was asked to indicate my professional role. Perfunctorily, I began to enter "classroom teacher." But then I realized how ironic this phrase was considering the topics of my proposals:

Using Apple’s Challenge-Based Learning to Build Learning Networks

Building A Knowledge Hub for Your Learning Community

Challenge Based Learning removes the teacher from the role as dispenser of knowledge and places him or her into the role of guide.In my experience, most of the learning takes place outside of the classroom for my projects. Students use the school schedule and space for meetings on logistics.

Professional teachers also have a role in knowledge hubs, but their expertise is not utilized in a specific "room" at a scheduled time. Students are encouraged to network with any teacher, not just "their teachers". Students are likely to confer with teachers on subjects they are not even assigned to teach in any classroom that school year.

It is my hope that "Classroom teaching" may soon become a kind of anachronism like "steam shovel" or "dial tone." We still us the phrase, but those shovels aren't powered by steam and few people access a tone by "dialing" a phone. With today's technology we don't need to conceptually confine authentic teaching to classes or rooms.

MHS tenth graders engaged in challenge project

Monday, May 3, 2010

8 Hot Techno Facts

YouTube serves up a billion videos per day.

On average, Kindle users buy 3.1 as many books as they did twelve months ago.

iPad users consume 3X videos as other users.

In December, iTunes U surpassed the 100 million download mark.

As of April 15, 2010 Wikispaces had given away 300,000 free classroom wikis.

At schools where cell phones are forbidden, 58 percent of students with mobile phones say they've sent a text message during class.

500 million people visit Facebook each month. Only Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have more monthly visitors and only Google has more page views.

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