Bold or Old?


This week I am preparing for a job interview and have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks reflecting on my school, my staff and the things that have been accomplished in the short time I have been in the building.  I am not saying that I have accomplished these things, because that is definitely not the case.  These things have been accomplished by a team of very dedicated and forward thinking people.  Wow am I ever lucky!

I spent part of my Easter break doing some web surfing and reading and trying to reconnect with my passion for technology in education.  There really is nothing that I like to focus on more than that.  I was reading some posts on Will Richardson’s site and I came across an older post of his about bold schools and old schools.  It got me thinking about what we are trying to create here.  When I reflect back to the progress we have made in the past few years I am certain that what we have here is a bold school.  He lists 9 qualities shared by what he is terming “a bold school”.  The qualities range from learning centered to provocative.  Check out the post for the complete list.

Looking back over the three years that I have been lucky enough to be working in this school with this staff we have made much progress on becoming a bold school.  We have slowly but surely embraced technology and different teaching methods that are more authentic to the learners we are working with today.  We have survived a lot of change and struggled to make sense of new curricular outcomes and new assessment strategies.  We have stepped up and committed to action research projects that have helped us move toward embracing technology use in our classrooms in many forms and we have tried to step back and turn more of the learning happening in our classrooms over to the students.

Our next goal is to move toward project based learning, which seems the next logical step in our progression.  We are looking at our curricular outcomes and where the commonalities might lie, but right now we have many questions…

  •   How can we timetable to accommodate project based learning?
  •   How can we support each other on our continued journey from familiar to unfamiliar territory?
  •   How can we prepare and engage our students to meet the needs of the changing world they are a huge part of?
  • How can we engage our reluctant students?

Any suggestions as to how to keep moving on our journey from old to bold? 

 We are definitely bold baby and we are not going back!

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.

Am I willing to give up control?

That is really what it comes down to doesn’t it?  Or at least that is a big part of it.  The formal learning environment is what most of us is used to.  We were educated in this manner and we were trained to educate in this manner.  There is not doubt that it may not be impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it can be difficult.   As an educator, I have been asked countless times why we need all these changes in education.  Many people have and still do say to me, “it worked fine for me when I was in school, so why are we changing it?”  For the most part, by “it”, they mean reading, writing and arithmetic taught to well behaved students, sitting in rows and being respectful.  That is the way I understand it anyway.

I hear from my own father, often, how he is frightened by the way the world is heading and he fears, in some ways, for our future being led by these young people who often appear uninterested, unmotivated, disrespectful, distracted and all in all heading in a wrong direction.

Oh, I am sure that some of this is true.  Education does seem to swing on a pendulum and we do often throw out perfectly good ideas and strategies to make way for the new flavour.  This is bigger then education though isn’t it?  It goes out beyond our classrooms and our schools to a much bigger audience.  The formal education that we are all used to does not need to be thrown out, but it needs to move over to make room for the new dog on the block-informal learning.  I mentioned before that my parents could not have possibly prepared me for the world that I live in today.  They had no idea what changes would come about, just as we, as educators supposedly preparing our students for the future, really have no idea what changes will come about in their lives.  We can guess and make predictions, but we really do not know.  One thing that we know for sure right now though, is that there are uncountable opportunities available for learning and sharing and that if we do not allow our students the opportunity to learn from each other and others, we will for sure be doing them a disservice.

I sat in a inservice session yesterday on preparing ourselves for the new curriculum documents in Saskatchewan that are turning up on so many of our desks at break neck speed.  They are based on constructivism.  Letting students ask their own questions about learning and letting them  play a much bigger role in how they will meet the learning outcomes.  One of the things that occurred to me was that it requires teachers to take a back role.  To step back and let the students learn and in doing so we give up control.

For me it really aligned with the idea of informal learning.  To allow students to participate in informal learning within our formal learning environments also requires that teachers give up some control.  That they let students take the lead and they become a facilitator of learning rather than information feeders.

In my job as an educator I feel not only obligated to allow my students to communicate and learn informally, but I also feel compelled to give them those opportunities.  I don’t think that I can feel that I am doing my job without allowing them to learn beyond me and despite of me.

In my job as an administrator, I think I must educate my teachers, as well, on the advantages of letting go and then I must support them in that endeavour.  Many of us feel like we are flying by the seats of our pants in a strange and unfamiliar environment.  It is important that we reach out and help those that are reluctant, just as members of this class have reassured me at the beginning of my journey into this strange new social network. Yes it may require great change in thinking and a lot of educating of parents and community members, but hopefully we will be surprised at the benefits.