You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Wow, I can’t believe that I am writing my final blog post for ECI 831.  One thing we can count on is time traveling quickly.  As I am contemplating what I have learned in my journey this term, it occurred to me that I have moved from not knowing how to set up a blog site to being determined that, although this will be the last post for this course, it will not be the last post on my site.

Learning how to blog this term was both satisfying and frustrating.  I definitely made a lot of progress.  It was a huge job for me to set up my blog site and figure out how to get started.  I didn’t realize at first that I had to approve comments as I stated in my blog post, “Am I starting to Understand?”  I found myself moving from being nervous about it to looking forward to it. I gradually learned how to insert pictures and video.  It was a great way to get out my thoughts on different  issues.  My school  principal gets to hear a lot of my ranting and raving out tech issues, so she was also be grateful that I had the blog site to express some of my thoughts.

One of the most satisfying things that I did this term was get a classroom of children in my school to start blogging as I talked about in my blog post about technology and language and my post about having fun with blogging. They were  excited to learn what it was and how to do it.  They were so excited about their first blog posts that many of them published them before we had a chance to check them over  and they were full of mistakes despite the number of times we told them not to.  It was interesting to see their progress and it was truly an experience where the students  exceeded the teacher.  Once I gave them the basics, many of them took off and were not afraid to experiment and try new things.  Check out our blogging spot!

In my position right now I do not have my own classroom of students and I have not had one for a couple of years.  I have been saying to my principal this year, “you need to get me back in the classroom.”  These grades 4/5 students showed me first hand the importance of connecting with their world.

The next thing I tackled was creating a wiki site that the teachers in my school could use so that they would have useful resources right at their finger tips.  I think that one of the biggest challenges teachers face involves time and although many teachers have the desire to use technology in their classrooms, they feel they do not have the time or expertise to do it.  This thought is what motivated the Smart’s Social Networking wiki.

I found this new medium harder than the blog to dive in and conquer.  I kept wanting to just scrap my original idea and head back to a blog site.  When we shared our ideas mid-class and I expressed my frustrations, Alec said it would be okay to do that.  I did not want the new technology to defeat me though!  I wanted to forge ahead and not retreat back to the familiar.  My wiki is definitely a work in progress, but I think that it is starting to come together to, at least, fulfill the purpose that was intended.

The classes this term were very inspiring to me. I was always pumped up at the end of class.  Either I was ready to try a new idea ,such as when we listened to Alan Levine as he spoke about digital storytelling and Sylvia Martinez when she spoke about educational gaming, or express my feelings in a blog post after listening to Jon Mott talk about open education.  I have been involved in on-line learning and teaching for a number of years, so his ideas really inspired me and made me realize that there were many more things that I could have added to my on-line courses.   There were other nights when I left confused, but I excited to go and find out what the heck we were talking about!  I am not kidding, but I love to learn new things such as the whole idea of remixing  with Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie. Ever since I heard Dean Share (ski) speak in Saskatoon I have been a groupie of his, following his ideas on open access to technology and digital teaching and learning.   I always looked forward to class and enjoyed the format very much.

I was not a huge participator in the back channel, but I did make peace with it about half way through the course.  I was distracted by it at first because it was not something that I was used to as I blogged about in my post, “Making Friends with the back channel.” About half way through the course I realized that I was using the back channel more than I thought and I was able to listen to the lecture and at least keep up with what was going on.  I thought it was so interesting to have guest speakers and fellow participants from all over the world.

When I first started this course it took me a long time to get my picture posted on the class wiki.  Thank goodness you can make a mistake and not wreck everything that is on there!  I also made an introductory video using xtranormal.  I uploaded it to you tube.  I never got it to the class wiki because of time constraints, but I can say that I have a video posted on you tube.  I used it as an example for a group of grades 6,7 and 8 students  when I was trying to inspire them to branch out and try something new for a project we were working on.  Let me tell you, they were impressed that their old vice-principal had a video posted on you tube!

One of the other projects that I attempted was doing a video using a site called VoiceThread. I tried to upload it to this post, but it was taking too long, so I decided that a link would have to do.  I was very proud of my finished product and I think it is another indication of the progress that I have been able to make this term.

The off shoots and benefits of this course have far exceeded my expectations.

  • I became familiar with faces and places and names that I never would have otherwise.  Now when I am looking around on the web I recognize names and can make connections
  • I have taken on an unexpected role on my staff as a technology mentor by passing on new ideas and supporting teachers with projects and lessons
  • I now feel I understand many tech topics much better including some that I had never even heard of before
  • I try and pass on my new found enthusiasm to others by presenting videos and information to my staff at  staff meetings
  • I saw the possibility to bring more technology into my school and applied for a grant to start a new project
  • I have carried on numerous conversations with division technology tech people to try and encourage  progress toward making 21st century learning and teaching easier for teachers
  • I was amazed at the amount of support that was available to me and the amount of help I received from everyone associated with this course
  • I learned so many things from the speakers and classmates from around the world

I would be amiss to not admit that I still have some frustrations associated with technology

  • Time is the biggest factor for me and the teachers in my school and, I think, teachers everywhere

I hope that I will continue to make progress and can gradually work towards less frustrations and even more beneficial off-shoots.

I will miss you on the back channel!

Am I Learning New Technology or New Language?

According to our speaker last night, Stephen Downes,… what we are really needing are not 21st century skills necessarily, but 21st century languages.  Hmmm…that was some more food for thought for this already well fed brain.  Stephen went on to give a presentation that was full of somewhat complicated ideas and information.  One thought that stood out for me was “we learn by participating and creating artifacts in various languages.”  I am not sure if this is the true meaning that Stephen wanted to get across to me, but the way I interpreted it, that couldn’t be more true for me or for ECI831. I have been forced way out of my comfort zone in this course and I have made myself try new things even when I was uncomfortable doing it.  I can definitely say that I have learned by participating and I have managed to create a few artifacts.

When I watch my grades 4/5 students blogging each week, I can’t believe how comfortable they are and how excited they are to try something new.  I find myself working hard to stay caught up with them.  Most of them do not need to be taught new skills because they are so comfortable with the “language” that they are willing to explore and discover on their own.  I am trying to teach them to be willing to dialogue with people and create their posts and comments for the purpose of opening up a discussion with someone else with similar interests or ideas.

When reflecting on Stephen Downe’s lecture and trying to make some connection to it, I spent some time reading some of his other blog posts and articles.  I came across an article titled, “Seven Habits of Highly Connected People.”  It is worth checking out.  There were some excellent ideas to pass along to my grade 4/5’s.

“The first thing any connected person should be is receptive. Whether on a discussion forum, mailing list, or in a blogging community or gaming site, it is important to spend some time listening and getting the lay of the land.”

What excellent advice for anyone, not just on-line.  We all need to be open to other perspectives and ideas and it never hurts to listen or live and learn as I call it.  Maybe it isn’t so bad afterall that I still get a bit frustrated with the back channel.  I may be called a lurker, but perhaps I am just listening and getting the lay of the land.

“What makes online communication work is the realization that, at the other end of that lifeless terminal, is a living and breathing human being. The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you. Comprehension has as much to do with feeling as it does with cognition.”

Another piece of excellent advice to  pass on.  It never hurts to add a little of your own voice and let people get an idea of who you are.  I am trying to teach my grade 4 and 5 students to put a little of themselves into their posts and comments and to try to use language that is engaging and creates a voice.

So as I continue to guide my students in the creation of their artifacts I hope that we all can learn the language of their future together.

Catch you on the back channel.

Does filtering solve our problems?

Once again we had a very interesting ECI 831 class last night on the topic of understanding media literacy. I was a bit late getting back from teacher convention in Regina, but when I came in the topic of discussion was filtering or blocking websites at school.  This caught my attention immediately, because it was part of the discussion of my post last week… I have some very strong opinions on this topic. My strong opinions seem to be based on  my own frustrations of trying to offer 21st century learning and encourage other teachers to do the same, when there are often many road blocks that stand in the way.

My school division runs a blocking program that blocks social networking sites, among other things, but at the same time we can ask for sites to be unblocked if we want to use them.  Sometimes when I am operating within my own little and sometimes frustrating, world, I think that sites are blocked only out of fear and misunderstanding, but of course that it not true.  When I was at teacher’s convention I had the opportunity to ask one of our tech consultants about our web filtering process.  He was able to open my eyes a little more as to what actually happens at the division office level.  He said that for every site 6 teachers may ask to be unblocked, there are 6 other teachers that may put in a request to have the site blocked.  I don’t mean to sound as if I exist only in my own little world here, but I had never even considered the idea that teachers would actually be asking for sites to be blocked, and I’m not kidding!  Perhaps my frustrations should not be vented at the division office tech department?  Maybe I need to put my energies elsewhere… and into some more positive places

This week Alec gave us a link to the blog site “Bud the Teacher” and his post entitled, “Would you please block?” The post describes a situation where the school district attempted to open up more of the internet and the idea was not well received by many teachers.  It was met by many requests to have  sites blocked again.  When I was reading through the comments I noticed that one came from Dean Shareski, who is a tech guy in the Prairie South School Division.  I attended a conference session given by Dean not long ago and have been attracted to his blog site ever since.  He is a lot like Alec and is all about keeping things open.  I think Prairie South has a much more liberal policy on web filtering.  In one of his blog posts Dean presented information gathered when he interviewed some of his teachers about their opinions on web filtering. He also included a podcast where he interviewed Patricia Yeske, a high school teacher involved in a laptop project at Riverview Highschool in Moose Jaw,  which I tried to include, but did not have any luck.

This made me think about some interesting questions:

  • Do we let our fears hold us back and expect that filtering blocks will make our job easier?
  • Are teachers up for the task of educating our students to do their own filtering service and do we trust them to do so?
  • Are teacher prepared to justify to parents, etc. why we do not block certain sites such as Face Book?

Although Patricia was initially negative about her students having lap tops all of the time and how she would deal with this, she came up with some easy solutions to help her and her students out.

1.  Seizing every possible teaching moment. I use this strategy with parenting and have been having discussions with all three of my children about drugs, alcohol and other issue from the time they were very small.  When I would hear about a certain situation that helped me illustrate the dangers I would use it as a teachable moment and we would talk about it.

2.  Setting strong expectations from the beginning. She made it clear to her students of what was expected as far as on-task behavior and internet safety.  This is something that we try and do with our students all of the time, so I am not sure what makes this situation so different?

3.  Walking about. She felt strongly that she needed to be all around the room.  She needed to check and see what students were doing and she could not do that from her desk.  This is the same strategy that administrators use to lower anxiety by teachers in classrooms.  The more visible you are the the less likely it is that students will not be doing what they are supposed to be doing.

4.  Watching facial expressions.  Teachers are masters at knowing when students are up to something they are not supposed to be.  Depending on the project, it should be easy to see if the facial expressions match the activity.

These suggestions are not earth shattering by any means.  I guess the question really is, do we want to spend most of our energy policing children and promoting fear or do we want to spend our energy educating students on proper use of digital media?   I was shocked at the number of videos available on youtube, made by students, for the purpose of showing other students,  how to get around school division filtering programs. Our students will use digital media no matter how many filtering programs we install, perhaps we need to model and monitor instead of waiting for school division offices to do it for us.  Catch you on the back channel.

How safe is too safe?

I recently started a blogging project with the grades 4/5 class in my school and  I was intent on protecting them and keeping them safe from the outside world.  I went to a lot of work to set up the site so all of their posts and comments run through my gmail account and right now we are closed off from the rest of the world.  In talking with the classroom teacher, we decided that we would invite another class of students in our school division to join us in our blogging project.  This would give us a slightly wider audience, but allow us to remain in our safe little environment.

The problem for me is that is seems as if something is missing from our project.  As I search around the internet checking out other student and classroom blogs, I can’t help but notice that the opportunity for comments from the outside world is an important component of what blogging is all about.  I come back to the video, “42” which describes the advantage of providing our students with a much broader and more valid audience for their writing.  So how safe is too safe?

I asked one of our school division technology people what the division policy is on blog sites.  He did not seem to think that it was a problem to open up the blog as long as:

1.  We had parental permission for them to participate

2.  The students did not give away any personal, identifying information

Greg Stark commented on my blog post about my student blogging project and  suggested that I open up our site and run all the comments through my e-mail so that I could delete any inappropriate comments.  Thanks for the suggestion.

We seem to do a lot of things to try and keep our students safe and “out of trouble”, so to speak.  Are we really trying to promote the use of technology in our classrooms?  I can’t help but wonder if we are being stifled by our own fears.  I was reading a blog post today and the teacher was describing having a “hissy fit” because a site that she had picked out to use with her students had been blocked.

Yesterday, I was helping a student who was trying to find out how many hours it would take to fly to China for one of his projects.  I was trying to give him suggestions as to where he could go to find the information, but all of the sites we found were blocked.

I am often working from home on my own laptop and preparing things for use in school, only to find that when I get to school, the sites that I wanted to use are blocked.  When I tried to use my own laptop at school, I found that this met with some roadblocks as well and that it is not allowed under our “acceptable use policy”.  Interesting… I guess I should have read that more carefully before I signed it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why there have to be rules and why we have to be careful.  I also understand that if you find a site you want to be able to access and can’t,  you can request to have it unblocked.  The problem with the whole idea is often, in the mean time, teachers that are wanting to get into technology use within their classrooms get discouraged and can feel that the time invested is not worth it.

I was sitting in on a short inservice session last week with some math teachers in my division.  I was listening to one teacher describe a video project she was doing with her students.  They were enjoying it and had invested a lot of time and energy into the project.  When they came back to it the next day, she found that “Deep Freeze” had blocked their pictures and their project was at a standstill until a tech person could get there and help her out. I am sure I could come up with countless other examples.

Our school division has been very encouraging to teachers providing us with up to date technologies and support personal to help us out.  We also have a technology grant that teachers can apply for to promote technology projects within our schools. I still have to wonder, though, if our fears are holding us back.   Are we really doing everything we can to encourage teachers to move away from traditional teaching methods and try new technologies?  I wonder…

Catch you on the back channel!

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.

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:

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!

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.