Archive for October 2011
I am currently home sick, so I thought that I would take advantage of some time to read everyone’s blogs. I thoroughly enjoy getting to know everyone, read their opinions, and gather new resources. I check the Delicious stack often, and I feel that I rarely have any great, new resources to contribute….yet. I am always keeping my eyes peeled, but as for now, please know that I am using what YOU suggest and passing the links along to others!
Speaking of sharing, I am hoping that I can tap into your knowledge and expertise in two areas. First, my final project. I have been working to create a website through which the staff at my school can easily (key work – EASILY) incorporate the Moral Intelligence virtues into their daily teaching. Incorporating the Moral Intelligence virtues into our classes each month is an initiative by the Regina Public School System. I have created lessons, combed through various resources and websites, and put it all together into a site. (Please keep in mind that it is by no means complete.) My plan is to have each month’s virtue online before the month arrives so that teachers can incorporate the virtue into their classroom through a variety of different lessons for different grade levels and learning styles. My goal is to share this site with as many teachers as possible, especially since moral education can be taught in any city, province, or country. If you or anyone you know would like to use this site, please note that it is still “in production,” but I would love it to be shared! Also, please feel free to comment or leave feedback if you have any questions! Now, for my question…I have been using Google Sites to build this site. For the most part, it has been very easy to use. However, the themes are so primitive, simple, and drab. The theme that I have chosen is the most graphically appealing one that I could find. Does anyone know if there are ways to improve a Google Site’s layout and theme, or if I am limited to what is given to me when beginning the creation of the site? Any tips on how to make the site more appealing, other than adding more graphics (which I am planning to do in the near future)?
When having the students work on the computers at school, I have previously always used Dropbox to have them save their work, then access it at home. Sometimes it works, but when often, the students are unable to access their work if they use a different version of Word at home. I want to get them started on Google Docs instead, but I am wondering if anyone has any suggestions of something that works well for their students. I would love to hear any suggestions!
Thanks a lot!
Before I begin my post about last night’s EC&I 831 class, I have to share something that demonstrates the endless possibilities of online learning. I was talking to a student after school and asked her what she was doing tonight. She is Muslim, and she informed me that she has prayers for two hours tonight. I asked her if she worships at home or at a Mosque, and she said that she does her prayers online! I asked her about it and she told me that she and her siblings follow an online teacher who leads their prayers from 7:00-8:30. Students from all over tune in so that they can participate. I found it very fascinating that a formerly very “traditional” practise is being taught online, making it more accessible to children and adults alike. It was also neat to see that children ten and under were participating in their own online community. What a great time in which we are living!
Last night, we were lucky enough to have Dave Cormier present to our class about Rhizomatic Learning. Prior to class commencing, I read Dave’s blog about Rhizomatic Learning so that I could be more prepared for his presentation. I recommend checking out his blog, as I ended up spending time reading about more than just Rhizomatic Learning!
Dave began by asking us why we educate. After a number of responses, he informed us that there are three kinds of outcomes within our education system – workers, soldiers, and nomads. He said that we originally began to educate to produce workers – people who were obedient, passive, and their learning could be measured by our standards. This was the traditional way of educating, often referred to as the “assembly line” method. Next, there are the soldiers. The soldiers know more than the workers; they are in charge of establishing what is to be learned, what competence is, and how we will measure that competence. The soldiers are essentially the teachers. Dave writes in his blog post defining the roles of the three outcomes and explains that “[The soldiers] are the defenders of memory. They are the ones who establish what things we currently know that the worker should remember, and then establish the system by which we will measure that knowing.” The more we study in this class, the more I question what I teach. How much of what we teach is now important? It used to be that we needed to remember information. In today’s day and age, we have access to facts at our fingertips. Thus, we must teach students HOW to obtain knowledge, solve problems, and discern what is truth and fiction from all the data to which they have access.
Our traditional school system has been based on soldiers training the workers. Dave’s third outcome, however, is one that is less common in our society – that of the nomad. The nomad is a creative thinker who is not afraid of divergent thinking. Nomads carve their own paths, create their own meaning, and learn things because they need to, not simply as an objective or a memory test. The nomads do not learn from rote memorization, but from the knowledge that comes with experience.
After establishing the three outcomes, Dave explained the definition of Rhizomatic Learning. Before we understand this learning style, it is important to understand what a rhizome is, as Dave uses the rhizome as a metaphor for his proposed learning environment. I was unfamiliar with this term, so let me explain. A rhizome is a type of plant that is incredibly resilient, aggressive, and chaotic. It is difficult to contain, follows its own path, take off in random directions, and cannot be controlled. I guess it is like twitch grass to the extreme! When given the chance, a rhizome takes off on its own, and its roots are incredibly deep. Dave compares the rhizome to the learning environment suitable for nomads. This class gets chaotic, can move in multiple directions, and it is unpredictable. It is open-ended, experiential-based, creative, and not based on memory, but on forming knowledge. There is no curriculum because learning from EACH OTHER is the curriculum.
As I was learning about this theory, two thoughts were going through my mind. The first was that I would love to have a classroom of experiential learning at all times. I thrive on creativity, and I love seeing my students be creative and “in it,” as Dave referred to the real, true grasping of knowledge. Having ended yesterday’s school day with a hands-on, messy science experiment and watching my students really understand and be involved in the concepts we were studying, I agreed with how important and exciting this Rhizomatic Learning can be. I also understood when Dave explained this kind of learning as messy (it was!), loud, less structured, and much more difficult than a worker-soldier type of classroom. This kind of learning is what the students remember because they CHOOSE to remember it, not because they have to. This part of me was all for Rhizomatic Learning.
Then, there’s the Type A part of me that says, “But what about the curriculum? I can’t just teach whatever the students feel like learning or where the discussion takes us. I have content to cover! What about my DNA, RAD, and school goal scores? All of this chaos will be so tiring and quite frankly, somewhat scary!” Then, Dave said something that I feel was the most important part of his presentation. Someone (I think it was Kelly?) asked him how it is possible to teach in this fashion when we have the K-12 curriculum to cover. Dave replied, “Do it when you can.” I felt much better and more confident hearing that it ISN’T completely possible, nor effective, to completely throw away the curriculum. Instead, we SHOULD have a guide to follow and parameters set, but that we should also leave room along the way to let our students learn things that are interesting and important to them. I think that Dave was saying that we shouldn’t always be teaching them WHAT to learn, but giving them situations to figure out HOW to create their own learning.
In my teaching, I feel that establishing a relationship with my students is extremely important. Not only does that allow me to understand their personalities, family situations, and needs better, but I am able to understand what is important to them. I cannot build an entire curriculum around their every desire, but as Dave explained, I can fit their interests into my plans whenever possible and allow that to become part of the curriculum. I have been working more with inquiry-based projects, where we study a certain concept, and the students can work on a project of their desire in the way that works best for them. For example, I had a class last year who were quite difficult. However, they were intensely interested when stories of animal cruelty were brought to school during our daily Current Events discussion. (I find that a ten minute discussion each morning pertaining to the world’s events can lead to excellent discussion and can allow me to understand what the students are passionate about.) I decided to take hold of that interest level and planned my writing lessons around animal cruelty. The grade six writing outcomes stated that I had to teach persuasive writing, so why not make it about something that mattered to the students? We researched a lot of animal cruelty incidents as a class, and then they were free to create a project that educated others about animal cruelty. The students completely ran with the project and wrote letters to MPs, baked dog treats to sell to raise money to donate to the Humane Society, created posters to present to other classes, made t-shirts, and wrote reports to read to friends and family. This was far less structured than a ‘typical’ writing class, but the results were much more thorough, creative, and meaningful for the students. It was definitely Rhizomatic Learning at work. The students’ interests dictated where we went with the project rather than the outcome telling them where they should go.
Dave made another statement that resonated with me. He said that “people always want to know what success looks like in order to reach it.” We then discussed how this kind of thinking stifles creativity, as the only objective is to do what is deemed successful by the assessor. I really struggle with this concept because of the standardized testing that we have to complete each year. We have a reading assessment (RAD) and math assessment (DNA) that are completed at the beginning and end of each year. I will not even go into detail about these tests, as it will turn into pages of me ranting about the reasons why I feel they are so ineffective. I just feel that in university and in our graduate studies, we are taught to teach with nomads, rather than workers, in mind. When we get into the school system, we are so stifled by so many standardized tests, objectives, and outcomes that must be met or else we look incompetent as teachers. I will try to keep Dave’s statement of doing what we CAN do in mind when I feel frustrated by the school system’s objectives. I am wondering what anyone else does to balance the demands of meeting objectives and standards with trying to create a more rhizomatic learning environment?
A Friday night gab session with a friend turned into fodder for a new blog post. Most productive phone call ever! It seems that no matter what the topic is and who I am talking to, somehow conversation always ends up being about Facebook. Tonight, we were discussing the act of “creeping” – our friends who lay low, never post anything, but are very vigilant as to what everyone around them is doing on Facebook. We were discussing how some of our mutual friends are always on Facebook, yet never make their presence known until every once in a while, they will say something like, “Yeah, I saw that you posted about that on Facebook.” When that happens, we both said we’re caught off guard because we forget these people are even viewing what we are posting, and we wondered why they choose to view, but not share or participate. Personally, I said that I simply have more fun on Facebook when I comment, engage in discussion, and post pictures. My friend, on the other hand, said that she viewed the “creepers” as judgemental, silently forming opinions about what she posted. Having been thinking about online identity since our Tuesday night class, I asked her if she thinks that her digital identity is similar to her real life identity. She said that she was definitely more herself in real life and that she felt that online, she had to be guarded and felt that she could only share part of who she is. I feel, however, that she is a very guarded person in real life as well, and that this spills over into her online persona even more.
I have been thinking quite a lot about how I portray my identity online, and I came to the realization that I am very open and very much myself through my digital identity. Unlike my friend, I do not feel the need to be guarded, nor do I feel like others are judging what I say and do. I post my opinions and feelings on Facebook, Twitter, and in my blogs, I share a plethora of pictures and articles, and I comment often on other peoples’ postings. Do I feel the need to filter myself online? No, for I have come to the realization that I do not filter what I share, but I filter who I share it with. Moreover, I realized that in many aspects, I feel that I can be MORE of myself online than in real life BECAUSE of my control over who gets to know the real me.
Since kindergarten, I have witnessed what it was like to be somewhat guarded. I attended the same elementary school where my mom taught, so we lived in the same community where she worked. It was an unwritten rule that my brother and I should behave our best, even outside of school, because everyone in the community would know if we were in trouble, and it would reflect poorly on my mom as a teacher at the school. Not to worry – we did not grow up in some rigid, uber-strict household, and my elementary school days were extremely positive. I was even fortunate enough to have been in my mom’s class, and it was one of my favourite years ever. Throughout school, however, I was aware that if I misbehaved, my teachers would tell my mom, and as I grew older, I realized that it would be embarrassing for her. It was interesting for me to find out this weekend that a colleague of mine attended the school where her dad was principal and her mom was a teacher, and she said she felt the exact same way while growing up.
Coincidentally, I am now teaching at the same elementary school that I attended and that my mom taught at for 23 years. I feel the exact same need to be guarded as I’m sure my mom once felt, and I do not even have the addition of my own children attending the school. I feel that as a teacher, I must constantly be a “good role model,” even when outside of the school. Many of the parents at my school are highly involved in the lives of their children to the point of being dubbed “helicopter parents”, as they are constantly “hovering” around the teachers and their children. Some are excellent parents, while others literally will watch in your windows while you teach. Our school is actually developing a reputation of being one where the parents are overly difficult to deal with, and I have found this to be true on numerous occasions. *Warning – this post is about to enter ‘teacher-rant’ territory.* Quite honestly, some of the parents at my school are far too involved in the business of the teachers’ personal lives. Here are a few examples in which I wish I had a “block this user” option in real life for dealing with parents:
Exhibit A: In past years, many of the parents on the school council spent much of the meeting talking about the teachers. We have new parents on the council this year, and I am hoping that they are more concerned about the school than they are about gossiping. At one meeting that a colleague of mine attended, she informed me that the parents were discussing which teachers were taking their Masters or second degrees. They were speaking negatively about this and how this would mean that we would have less time to spend working on our jobs. Little do they know how much we are using FROM our classes to benefit our teaching. One parent once complained to the principal that our VICE PRINCIPAL, who was taking her Masters and doing training to be a teacher leader, was jeopardizing the students’ learning because she was spending six half days receiving leadership training. Ridiculous.
Exhibit B: After I had gotten engaged, a parent of a child whom I had never even taught said to me, “Congratulations! We heard you just got engaged!” I thanked her, to which she said, “So your fiancé is from Seattle? Is he moving here?” I replied that no, he was not from Seattle, nor had he ever lived there. She said, “Oh, really? That’s what everyone is saying. Has he been there recently?” Everyone is saying that? Why? How did they even come up with that information? Why do they even care?
Exhibit C: After my wedding, I took my pictures to Walmart to get them developed, not knowing that a parent (again, of a student whom I had never taught) was working in the photo developing centre. When I came to pick up my photos, she had actually looked through all of my photos and commented to me about which teachers were at the wedding, how they were partying, and other comments that angered me simply due to the fact that she had looked through my photos without my permission. Had this been Facebook, I could have had control over who had seen these photos, and it would not have been a parent. I do not even know why I was so mad. There was nothing that I needed to hide, as I was very proud of these pictures and was showing them to everyone. However, I could show them to WHOM I wanted, and I would not have chosen a parent who has no business going through my photos.
Exhibit D: My coworker was driving in the same area where we teach, and she had flowery decals on her car, making her car easy to identify as hers. That day, she turned left on a yellow light to avoid being stuck in the intersection. The next day, her middle years student said to the class, “My mom said that she saw you driving yesterday. You turned left on a yellow light and that’s really dangerous. My mom said that you could have hit someone or caused an accident.” She promptly took the decals off of her car so that it would look less conspicuous.
I feel that as a teacher, I must always be aware as to who is “watching” me. I love that online, I can filter to whom I present myself. I CAN post my wedding pictures and state my opinions without worrying that they will be taken the wrong way. I am fully comfortable on Facebook, my blog, and Twitter because I do not have to filter myself because I have chosen not to have parents, students, or anyone under the age of eighteen as my friends. Yes, I know that there are ways for others who are not my friends to view my content, but I do not post anything that I feel that I will regret. I find it interesting that when I first started using the internet and engaging in message boards and chat rooms, the big precaution was how easy it was for one to assume a false identity. Who would know if you were faking to be someone else? Nowadays, I rarely even think about that at all. I recall Danah Boyd discussing in her presentation that people use Facebook to connect with friends, not to meet new people. There is no need to pretend to be someone we are not when on Facebook – everyone knows everyone’s business already so it would be pretty difficult to pretend to be someone else!
My friend and I had such differing opinions about how we present our identity online. I am interested to know if your online identity and real life identity differ, or if you are relatively the same person in both aspects of your life.
I found it interesting that minutes after posting my last blog entry, this video was Tweeted. Talk about trying to make sense-make! This one-year-old is trying to figure out why the magazine will not operate like an iPad! It blows my mind that from such a young age, this generation will most likely be as comfortable with technology as with print!
This past Tuesday, we were treated to a presentation by George Siemens entitled Sense-Making and Wayfinding. In his presentation, George talked to our class about human beings’ need to make sense of everything around us rather than living in a state of confusion and non connectivity. We are in constant pursuit of coherence in our lives – online and otherwise. George stated that this coherence takes two forms – sense-making and wayfinding. When we are sense-making, we are attempting to understand, make connections, and tie everything together. “How do the pieces fit?” we question ourselves. We attempt to understand meaning using our background knowledge and previous experiences, so sense-making is extremely personal and thus, is different for each individual. Wayfinding, a spatial concept, is our attempt to navigate our way through something that we do not understand so to try to orient ourselves. When learning new tools in this class, we are all constantly wayfinding.
As I sat down to blog about Tuesday’s class, I had to employ my own sense-making process and reflect for longer than usual about what I had learned. I thought about how Siemen’s presentation related to our other presentations and readings. I began to see the connections, the strongest for me personally being his comments about the changing landscapes of our education system today. Siemen discussed how there is a shift of power in education taking place. With a class such as ours, the students are often controlling our learning. I found it interesting that I posted about this on the weekend, and we discussed it in this presentation, so I was pleased to have picked up on that connection. With students in online classes controlling their own learning, the power shifts off of the teacher who formerly directed the learning. The teacher is more of a facilitor rather than the one in control of the content that is presented, and how it is presented. Siemens said that as students, this shift often presents us with a need to sense-make and wayfind. We are used to “formal education,” and mimicking how we were taught. A course such as ours is so different to us that we have to sense-make and wayfind because no one is explicitly telling us what is the most important thing to learn. We are to make sense of that for ourselves, contribute to our class community, and wayfind through the tools of our class.
I thought about George’s discussion a great deal from both the role of a student and an educator. I’ll admit, I found it ironic that I had some difficulty “sensemaking” about a presentation ABOUT making sense of what we experience! I thought about how I was educated and how I teach, and found that Siemens is correct – some of my practises still mimic how I was taught. I have Spelling lessons every morning, complete with Spelling Dictation on Fridays. Is this practise out of date? Are students really going to need to know how to spell when their programs will all have autocorrect, spell check, and built in dictionaries on their mobile devices? I, for one, hope that they DO continue to learn how to spell without the use of technological assistance. Siemens explained how we often feel comfortable once we have made sense of things and oriented ourselves. Because we were formally educated, we are most likely comfortable educating in the same manner. This left me wondering which teaching practises, such as Spelling, I may be engaging in due to my comfort level with them.
I discussed my thoughts regarding being the teacher of a MOOC in my previous blog post and in some of my comments to others. I admitted that I would feel uncomfortable shifting the power to my students. Following Siemen’s presentation, I realize that much of my discomfort would be due to my inability to wayfind through that type of educational landscape at first. It would not be the giving up of power that would bother me, but it would be the unpredictability and the lack of routine that would bother this Type-A teacher! However, I think that with experience I would find my way and feel more comfortable. I enjoy trying new things with my students, implementing new technology, initiating group work and projects, and engaging students in their own learning. I may crave stability, but I also love to try new things, and wayfinding and sensemaking are often an exciting challenge and a rewarding experience when you find your way and see the light!
I will leave this entry with a quotation by author and educator Isaac Asimov that seems to summarize our sense making and wayfinding journey today. Still relevant today, the statement was made in 1930:
“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
by hello jenny
Yesterday, my mom sent me an email asking, “Have you seen this site? I think you would love it,” with a link to Pinterest. Perhaps I am out of the loop for not having seen this before, or maybe it is slightly up and coming. All I can say is ten minutes spent on this site, and I’m officially addicted (and I REALLY need more things to be addicted to online! :P). Pinterest is a visual way to display websites and pictures that you find on the web. Perhaps they are favourite recipes, future vacation ideas, styles that you love, diy ideas, or home projects. You simply install the “Pin It” button onto your toolbar, drag an image of your inspiration to the button, and the program automatically sources the link and credits the creator. The site is built around sharing things we love, and that how “EC&I831” is that?!
Over the past week, I thought a lot about Shelley Terrell‘s Personal Learning Networks talk and how wonderful it was to hear her presentation, all the way from Bangkok! Incidentally, when I was looking for a tutorial to teach my staff how to use create a bundle of RSS feeds, the first one on my YouTube search was created by Shelley! She really is a woman of many talents! Part of Shelley’s presentation about the power of personal learning networks and the importance of sharing resources and information. She reminded us that the internet was created as a free tool for people around the world to use. We should be sharing what we have, learning through each other, and creating PLN. Shelley told us about the days as a beginning teacher when she did NOT have the internet yet. I think quite often about what I would do as a teacher without the internet, and it is not something that I like to think about for very long! I am aware of what it would be like, as my Mom taught for 33 years and I saw the amount of handwritten, library-reaserched, hand-created work that she had done. Shelley reminded us that before Google, if you needed to research something that you were going to teach or learn about a student’s medical condition, you had to go to the library, HOPE that the book wasn’t checked out, and research the topic from only a limited number of resources. This Thanksgiving weekend, one thing that I am thankful for is the internet!
During Shelley’s presentation, some of us engaged in a chat in the chat window regarding how little some teachers are willing to share. It is a sad fact that many teachers still do not like to exchange the work that they have created or the lesson plan ideas. We discussed how some seem to feel that if they created something, they want the credit for it. I’m hoping that in this day and age with the amount of PLNs, Twitter, and ed chat sites, this way of thinking will soon be part of the past.
Last night, after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, my husband, brother, his girlfriend, our cousins, and my dad were all discussing our mobile devices. We all started talking about the apps that we use daily, and ones that we recommended. What ensued was a sort of family PLN! We were all checking out each other’s phones and making notes about which apps to download. I marvelled in this different age that we live in, and I am very thankful to be included in it! To end this post, I am wondering if you would like to share your favourite apps with me? Here are a few of mine (and keep in mind that I do not have many, a fact that my brother found disgraceful and provided me with numerous apps to download today!). Most of these are “just for fun” apps, and all are for the iPhone (sorry Blackberry users. If you have any to add, please do!):
– 8mm Vintage Camera – My wedding photographer introduced me to this app when she used it to video part of my wedding using her iPhone. She edited it together to create our video, and it looks like it was shot 50 years ago.
– Hipstamatic – Allows you to change the flash and lens of your camera to give your pictures a vintage feel. There are many different combinations to try, so it’s fun to play with.
– Point Inside – I’m an avid shopper, to put it lightly. This GPS style apps shows you where the nearest malls are. I used it a lot when on vacation!
– Sound Hound – This is one of my favourites. When you hear a song and you don’t know who it is by, the app will tell you, as well as provide the lyrics for you. Gone are the days when I would try to memorize a line of the song, go home, Google it, and THEN find my answer!
Fun apps that my brother recommended (mainly for photo editing):
– PS Express – he said it is his favourite of the photo editing apps
– Colour Splash, iMajiCam Pro, and AgingBooth – fun photo apps. AgingBooth converts a photo into what the person will look like when they are old. It’s pretty funny!
– Sleep Talk Recorder – This app is crazy! It records your entire “sleep process” while your phone is plugged in and charging while you sleep. You can listen to what you said in your sleep!
Have fun, and Happy Thanksgiving!