Having fun with blogging!

I have been having such fun this week blogging with a group of very enthusiastic elementary students in my school.  I happened to see a class project they were working on laying on my principal’s desk one day.  It was a paper “blog” about things that were going on their classroom.  I immediately saw an opportunity to convince these students and their teacher to help me out.  For my project in ECI 831 I wanted to develop a Wiki or blog that would be a tool that teachers could use at my school to get involved with technology and along with that I was hoping to start a blogging project in my school to use as a successful example.  When I saw the paper “blog” I saw an opportunity that I  was hoping  could be win, win for all of us.

We got started this week after I spent a lot of time deciding where we should set up our blog and how I wanted to organize it. I was able to get a lot of useful information from Fusion: Educator Integrating Technology and from a blog site by Kim Cofino, called “Always Learning: Teaching Technology Abroad.” After doing a lot of researching and thinking I decided to set up my students using a gmail account and have all their posts and comments run through my email.  This way I could be in control of what was being posted.

I introduced my eager grade 4s and5s to what blogging was and we watched the video , “Blogging in Plain English” and talked about what blogging was all about.  We also discussed some of the safely issues that we had to pay attention to.

Some of them came to me this morning bubbling with excitement.  They said that they had taken their parents on to our blog site to show them what we are doing.  They asked if it was all right that they were posting on to the site from home. Was it all right that they were excited about writing when they were not required to?  Wow!

I was not prepared for the enthusiasm that was abounding and how quickly and easily they caught on.  They could not wait to get their ideas posted.  Today we talked about making comments and how we could use comments to learn from each other.  The class usually ends before we are ready to quit.  The classroom teacher and I have made plans on how we can expand our project and hopefully involve another school in our school division to help us out.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about protecting the students and how careful we should be.  I have a hard time balancing my attitude about myself and putting myself out there and remembering that not all parents, administration and school boards are as open to that idea.  How careful to you think we need to be?  Right now our blog is protected, but eventually I would like to open it up so they can have the experience of having comments come from other places.  Any thoughts?

There are some things that I already know for sure about this type of project.  Students are ready for it, want it and are so open to trying it.  They are interested in writing and we now have the opportunity to help them improve their writing and practice it without them even knowing that they are doing it.  I can’t wait to see where this project will lead us  and what skills we can learn and develop along the way.  If you have any suggestions about things that could help us on our way, please let me know.  Thanks for the help.

Catch you on the back channel.

Educational gaming…a hot educational topic?

If I thought my brain was exploding before, it certainly is now.  I was unable to make a connection on Tuesday night to Elluminate and so I had to listen to the recorded version this morning.  Sylvia Martinez certainly gave me some food for thought.  I am not a gamer!  I really have a strong feeling of negativity when it comes to video games and me playing them.  I am surrounded by gamers in my family and I know that my students are avid gamers.  I do support gaming as an activity for other people.  When my 11 year old son asks me to watch him do something cool on a video game, I can even get feeling nauseous from the fast action-Good grief!

I am not sure that I have noticed the “hot” debate about video games, mainly because my mind has been occupied with other educational debates.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized that there is a debate out there.  I had a couple of thoughts on why we are having the debate.

1. We cannot deny the movement and the necessity of 21 century learning and engaging children in their learning by giving students what they need and want. I happened to come across a very interesting video at google videos this morning, School Matters: The Games Children Play, that I attempted to include in this post  without any luck, so a link will have to do.  It made a lot of the same points as Sylvia Martinez presented to ECI831, with some other issues added on.  Dr. Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparitive Media Studies at MIT, said the following:

“If you ask a child what is bad about a video game, they will reply, ‘when it is too easy’. If you ask a child what is bad about an assignment, they will reply, “when is it too hard.”  Dr. Jenkins felt that this summed up a fundamental problem with our teaching strategies and felt, as Sylvia Martinez did, that we need to try harder to link video game attributes to things that students are doing in the classroom.

2.  Many teachers and parents do not see the educational value to gaming in school. Sylvia Martinez brought up an interesting point when she said, just because something is labeled ‘educational’ doesn’t mean that it is.  Of  course we all know we can’t believe everything that we read, but do we really stop and think about what we are actually trying to achieve with our “teaching” activities?  I think parents and teachers can be lulled into thinking that we are spending “useful” time if something is labeled “educational”.  The other side of that, I guess is, does everything we are doing have to be educational?  Again it comes back to our definition of education and what we are trying to achieve. We need to be a lot more aware of what the game “says” it does and what we are actually hoping to achieve by having our students play the game.

3.  There seems to be a lot of media hype on the issue of violence in video games and what effect that has on young children.  Of course there are two sides to this debate as well, but the connection does not help when it comes to educating parents on the benefits of the use games in school other than the “educationally” labeled games.

4. The link between the amount of time children spend on playing video games/social media networks and childhood obesity is another topic of debate.  You do not have to look far to see many headlines on this topic. Video games and other sedentary activities get an automatic bad rap.  Schools are under pressure to add in more physical education and get those kids moving and this can help create a negative attitude toward using video games at school.

5. There is a debate about the rise of video games causing the death of reading, and reading is one of the number one factors that is linked to student success. According to James Gee, Professor of Education at the University of Wisconson, also seen the the video, “School Matters: The Games Children Play”  …video gaming and other social media activities actually cause students to do more reading and writing  than ever before, it is just the modes have changed and are not looking the same as our traditional ideas of what constitutes reading and writing.

I had never really thought about the creating side of games before, mainly because I am not a game player and not hugely comfortable with activities that I perceive require huge amounts of technical ability.  I checked out the Scratch game creating site and even though I did not have much time to spend there, I realized, once again, that there are so many tools available that I am not taking advantage of.  It  is funny how everything starts to connect-we are moving toward student controlled learning and it makes sense that designing games puts the learner in charge.

One thing is for sure, the debate will probably continue.  Schools need to work hard to educate parents on gaming by putting forth positive examples.  It meshes so well with all the other changes and debates that are going on right now, that we have a great opportunity to be proactive in squashing some of the negative hype.  Catch you on the back channel.

Making the Shift

It seems to me that everything is changing on the education front in Saskatchewan right now!  I am a relative newcomer to the province, but I have never before experienced so many educational changes at one time.  My mind is constantly spinning with all of the new ideas and the things I want to implement and change.  I am sure that I drive my staff crazy sometimes because I am always talking about the things that I learn in ECI 831, the many things that I am always finding on the net and the things that I am reading.  I am beginning to wonder if they are starting to  run and hide when they see me coming down the hall.

At our last staff meeting I showed them the video- “Shift Happens“.  Just one of many videos at youtube presenting relatively the same idea-we better wake up and realize that change is happening faster than we can even anticipate and our teaching strategies need to reflect that.  Next time I plan to show the video “42” so we can have a discussion about alternative forms for student audience.  I really liked Starkg’s comment to my last post  “So many tools…so little time?, suggesting that we could have a Best of… site to showcase some of our students fantastic work.  There are so many opportunites for students to publish their work and open up their ideas to others.  Gone are the days when I expected my English students to write for an imaginary audience that could not be me, but in reality that imaginary audience would never see their writing and I would be the only one reading it.

For those of you that read my last post, “So many tools, so little time?” you could tell I was very excited about the changes in assessment practices.  I like the whole idea of assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning.  As our division moves forward with Ken O’Conner’s, “15 fixes for Broken Grades, it will be interesting to see the movement from traditional grading practices to grading practices that reflect assessment for learning and outcome based learning.  I am a constructivist by heart, so it all works for me.   It can still be a difficult transition for everyone and as I sat listening to parents talk at our SCC meeting last night I could see that parents were struggling with the “shift” as much as we were.  I was trying to explain that it was a huge change for us too to move from information feeders to learning facilitators.  As Jeffg stated in his comments to “So many tools…so little time?” he was struggling to find some different assessment practices that worked for him and I really agree that we need to keep looking and helping each other make the shift.  We all need to be in the process together. I would like to be able to go back in time and change some of my past students grades to reflect fair grading processes.

One thing is for sure, we are all in this shift together and the amount of support available is astounding.  Thanks for the support in my new projects and I hope that Ican do the same for you.  Catch you on the back channel!

So many tools…so little time?

I couldn’t help but think that laying on my bed in my flannel pjs  watching very cool digital stories last Tuesday was a great way to spend an evening.  Once again I walked away with so many new ideas and so many new tools at my finger tips.

On Wednesday I left for Saskatoon to attend the Assessment conference sponsored by SPDU.   It was excellent and very practical.  I absolutely loved our first speaker, Sandra Herbste-Luedtke, superintendent of River East Transcona School Division in Manitoba, and her very sincere message on transforming barriers to assessment for learning.  Ken O’Conner spoke about his 15 Fixes for Student Grading Practices and I now think that I could answer questions intelligently and feel much more confident in my ability to guide my staff  to the understanding of the  new assessment practices in our division.  Lucky me though, because I also got to attend a session by Dean Shareski as he discussed using technology to support and enhance best practices in assessment.

The best part of Dean Shareski’s session was that my principal came with me and now she has a better understanding of the things that I am always yattering on about.  I also think she has a better idea why I am so passionate about sharing my information with my staff.  I think there were 3 ideas that stood out for me about Dean Shareski’s session.

1.  “Teachers spend way too much time doing the wrong things”. This is an idea that we have discussed often, this fall, as an administration team in our school, and I think it is very true.  Sandra Herbst-Leudtke also spoke in her session of the bag of marking that was always “calling” her before she learned to used other forms of assessment.  There are so many tools out there for us to use for student engagement and assessment, but for some reason we cling to old practices even though they make our daily lives harder than they need to be.  I was looking at a bunch of web sites this morning that could help alleviate this  idea.  These are a couple of them:

www.willard.k12.mo.us/co/tech/blog.htm

www.ibritt.com/resources/wp_blogs.htm

2.  “It is not information overload, it is filter failure”. Again could not be more true, and again, could this be the reason that teachers are feeling overwhelmed?  Could it be that we can’t give up our traditional ideas and latch on to something new?  Could it be that we are not making the best use of other assessment tools that are available to us?  Could it be that we feel like we have to do everything sometimes, so we don’t try anything new?

3. “On average, only 42 people see a student’s work during their K-12 education.” Now that is sad.  Dean went on to say ” if kids do not have an audience, kids don’t care.”   We have so many opportunities to give our students an audience, so why are we not doing that? Just today I was searching away, going from web site to web site, and I discovered a short video entitled, “42“.

As you can tell I left the conference pumped up about student assessment for learning in many different ways. Upon reflecting on the questions given to us by Alec on Tuesday, “how have all these tools changed the way we do things and think about things?”  Well, to tell you the truth I don’t think they have that much.  I think there are still a lot of us that are reluctant to jump in and get our feet wet and take advantage of the tools that are available to us.

I think back a few years to when I was teaching drama and wanting my students to make digital stories and the trouble we have with video cameras, cords, lack of equipment, etc.  What I would have given then to have what I have now, or maybe I did not realize what I had.  See you on the back channel.

Do I have time for all of this?

This week I couldn’t help but think that I am going to have to quit my full time job or take a leave of absence from my family if I am going to be able to get into the social networking world as I should.  Our guest presenter last week , Sue Waters, had so much useful information about blogging, especially for educational purposes.  Her presentation inspired me to keep on my learning quest and I approached the grades 4/5 teacher at my school to see if she wanted to work with me on a project.  I happened to see that her class was doing a “blog” in print form.  My brain started to race at the possibilities!  Here was an opportunity to put my action where my mouth has been.  I could possibly mold my project around this idea and we could both benefit-hopefully.  I was hoping that she was not going to run at that moment, but lucky for me, she was willing to take the chance of being dragged into my social networking knowledge quest.  I still have to wonder…do I have enough knowledge at this point to actually teach someone what I know.

Knowledge is a funny thing-the more I learn, the more I want to learn. It may seem to some that my journey has not taken me very far, but for me every little thing that I learn prompts me to put myself out there and learn something else.  When I was reading comments that were made in response to my blog post, “Am I a candidate for on-line social communities?” I could not help but think  that there are so many people out there willing to help me on my journey.  It is hard not to be insulted by some of the comments or to take them personally.  Sean pointed out that I was not accepting my blog comments.  What?  I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be.  Why would this person care what I was doing?  Sean did not know me.  On the other hand-what a interesting and cool concept that someone that I did not even know would care about my progress on my journey.  Thanks for the information, my new friend.

There was so much information given last week by Sue, that I don’t really know where to start.  She challenged us to ask her 3 questions about educational blogging or building our own personal learning networks.  I gave this some thought and right now I think my 3 questions would be:

1.  How do I protect the privacy of my students and teachers as I teach them to participate in educational blogging?

2.  How do I teach students, parents and teachers to comment appropriately and usefully to the  posts?

3.  How do I set up my own personal blog so that I am making the most efficient use of the tools to manage it in the time I have?

Thanks Sue for all of your information and also for agreeing to reply to our questions.  There are so many helpful and knowledgeable people out there for us to draw information from.  Who knew that I had access to a whole different learning network that would be so useful to me? Of course I have time for that! Catch you on the back channel.

How can we close the gap?

I seem to be hovering somewhere between excitement about what I am learning and considering each week and a slight feeling of  confusion and panic.  The excitement comes from my desire to take in all of the new ideas and try to consider ways that I can change my own mindset about learning so that I might become a role model within my school.   The confusion and panic comes from certain things that seem to be standing in my way.  Sometimes I am standing in my own way, if that is possible, and sometimes there are other policies and decisions that stand in my way.

There seems to be a huge gap between what we should be doing and what we are allowed to do sometimes.  How do we close that gap?

The whole idea of connectivisim as discussed by George Siemens last week was very interesting and very theory rich, as we were warned it would be.  I would even admit that some of it flew right over my head because of my inability to concentrate.  The question of where we turn for guidance and direction when it comes to changes in skill development is an interesting one.  Who is guiding us in this journey?  Or are we guiding ourselves and taking risks that are hopefully leading us in the right direction?  Maybe we should be letting our students guide us?

There are so many changes going on in our school division with restructuring, new curriculum, expansion, new assessment policies, new government funding formulas, etc., etc.,  that I am not sure that we can wait around for guidance on how we can change our classroom learning to reflect the 21st century learner. At times it seems that some of the policies and decisions made at the school division level do not reflect what classrooms need to instruct that  learner.  One example of this might be the blocking of certain sites or social networking services because they are not seen as learning tools. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I see the other side of it and understand why they are blocked, but it is a bit of a catch 22 at times.

One idea that stuck with me from last week was the whole idea of modeling for our students.  I would agree that we are quick to criticize our students and our own children for the misuse of their social networking tools.  I would be the first to admit that I am not modeling appropriate use of those tools because I am not using them.  I just learning how to text within the last six months!  I need to improve my comfort level and get modeling before I do much more criticizing.

Will Richardson’s quote, “…connectors first and content experts second.” was another idea that really stuck with me.  I was watching some youtube videos this morning on the same topic and found one by a Director of Schools named Greg Whitby. His video entitled, “21st Century Pedigogy” discussed the need for teachers to change their whole teaching “DNA”, or our ideas about how teaching should be done.  Try and watch it if you can.  The idea seems huge and scary, but necessary.  Catch you on the back channel!