Saturday, April 26, 2008

Education for Well-Being

Wandering around in the education twitter/blogosphere led me to Education for Well-Being, which is Bill Farren's blog. He's an educator in the Dominican Republic and has put together this video:

that I would like to make a part of any workshop or talk on 21st century learning I do. Farren's site deserves better than a brief summary here, so please visit his site and get it straight from him. I'll just bring up a few points that really struck me. Education for Well-Being. Farren pushes educators to re-think their view of 21st century literacy. We should embrace web 2.0's collaborative nature to improve the lives of all our planet's residents. If we place our student's well-being at the center of our educational endeavors, then our classrooms is necessarily be centered around their needs (note: this may not always align with what they believe to be their needs!) What Farren most emphatically believes students do not need is to be prepared to provide low-cost labor in a global economy!

The economy needs to support people, not the other way around. Therefore, education needs to support economic well-being. We need our planet to support us, therefore education needs to support planetary well-being. In the 21st century, we have got to use collaboration to find ways to end the cycle of economy vs. planet that has us trapped. In the same vein, we have to stop labeling and categorizing our knowledge. Reality does not fit neatly into disciplines. Is it really possible to own knowledge?

Farren's writings helped my brain put together some other thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head that were seemingly disconnected before I got to Education for Well-Being. I read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer's work in Haiti and around the world fighting to provide healthcare for the poorest citizens of impoverished nations. It's a book that can make the reader feel guilty for having enough to eat, but that isn't Farmer's desire or point. Instead, he's trying to change our hearts and minds to realize that every sick child deserves the dignity of the best health care possible. I wonder if Farren and Farmer have ever met? I'd love to listen to that conversation.

The needs of children is also the major theme of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Farren references Louv's "nature deficit disorder" on his site, and uses the term "biophobia" too. It may sound strange, but I believe that technology can really save us here. Innovation, collaboration, and connections built across the barriers of the world through "21st century literacy" can lead to a new relationship with and respect for the physical world around us. For example, the best resources for finding out about permaculture gardening are online wikis or forums. These "long tails" help what might start as a fringe group grow into the mainstream more quickly than ever before. Geocaching is environmentally sustainable, has a tech component, connects people who otherwise would never meet, and gets an ever-growing number of American and European families outdoors together.

My next book will be Farewell My Subaru, by Doug Fine. I don't know a lot about him except that he writes about trying to be carbon neutral without giving up the essentials of American life, which for him includes items such as wireless internet, Netflix, and thumping sub-woofers. While I personally know how to live a happy life without the last two, I get his point, and I can't wait to get the book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Sense of Urgency

I started this blog because I hit a personal tipping point during the last few weeks. I'm feeling a real sense of urgency about bringing change to schools, teaching, and student learning. If we do not find a way to push a sizable chunk (not necessarily a majority, but a good chunk) of educators into the 21st Century and Web 2.0 thinking, our students are going to figure out that school is irrelevant to their "PLCs." Sure, the college bound will still show up, take the SATs, ERBs, EOG's, APs and whatever else we shove at them, but they will be going through the motions even more than they have been. The tragic part of this that I don't see discussed as much as I'd like is that while these students may know how to use read/write/create web, but they are still in desperate need of guidance. It reminds me of a poem by John Ciardi I memorized in grade school that went something like this:

The old crow is getting slow,
the young crow is not.
Of what the young crow does not know,
the old crow knows a lot.

What does the old slow crow not know?
How to go faster.
What does the young fast crow not know?
Where to go.

These kids know how--but they don't know why and for far too many, the only ones teaching them are each other. I was lurking on a gaming discussion board, and found a long thread in which the students were discussing the various APs they were taking and comparing notes. I know an AP teacher who has started a private Ning with his students and has had a great experience. I'm hoping he'll expand to collaborate with other schools next year, but he's not sure yet. If we don't help the students, they'll create their own learning communities without us, but I truly believe they will learn far more if we participate with them. Steve Hargadon puts it more eloquently here. We have the opportunity to get students involved in extended intellectual discourse and we must seize it before they believe we can't. Lord of the Flies, only the island is virtual.

One of the moms in one of the workshops I've led looked me in the eye and said "There is no way I'm putting my real name on Facebook and I don't think anyone else here should either." Another mom in a different workshop (with older children) asked me if she'd be making her kid a social outcast if she just absolutely forbade participation in social networking. I was honest--I told her no, because her child would just learn to lie and hide an online life. Unless a middle class family decides to move out of town, disconnect from the grid, and grow their own food, I don't see a way to keep a teen from participating. Fear-driven decision making has never really worked to stop the flow of information once it is started. Hmm--actually I'm not so sure about that sentence. Fear-driven decision making leads to a lot of repression, agony and pain before the inevitable revolution. That's a better analogy. It describes a lot of other teen/parent interactions too.

So, if this is urgent, how do we move that sizable chunk of teachers? This is sounding sort of Who Moved My Cheeseish now. The good news is that the number of educators participating in web 2.0 is growing exponentially. I listened to Stewart Crais of the Laptop Institute on a recent Edtechtalk 21st Century Learning podcast (disclosure, I love the conference and will present there this year) discuss the fact that the main purpose of the conference is to connect teachers with other teachers and that more and more teachers (as opposed to technology staff) are coming each year. What I find compelling about this is that it means these teachers are changing their own model of dealing with technology. They are going, finding out and seeking each other like never before (IRL and online) instead of just waiting for the technology coordinator to show up at their door with a gadget or piece of software. So leadership--take note of these teachers--get them and their students the tools they need, unblock the websites they use, and let the kids publish. Participate yourself Understand what they're doing so that you can protect the teacher when the fearful show up marching with doomsday signs.

Something I've been doing is thinking about what a 21st Century Literacy Specialist can look like. To see one vision, read Kim Cofino's blog (Cofino's is a 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School Bangkok in Thailand is). She is impressive and inspirational. Most schools can't necessarily fund a specific position like this, but they can find their internal visionaries and find ways to support and promote what they're doing (see above). What is fantastic about Web 2.0 is that the technology itself is very doable. Which means that it really is about the literacy and not the technology. It always comes back to the literacy. Movable type changed the world.

And finally, because I love Tom Chapin's Not on the Test and started this entry with a grade school poem

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moms Online

Moms online.  That's the title of the workshop I'm leading tonight.  I wrote a real soapbox sermon to some of my old friends who have young children a few months ago after the Frontline special Growing Up Online first airedI've given "Facebook workshops" to a couple of groups of moms of young children and tonight I'm going to try to do the same thing with a group of moms of older children.  They are both more fearful and feel a greater sense of urgency about the issues.  I think (although I'm not sure) that their tech skills are not as strong as the other groups I've worked with.

Some issues I see:

The gap between kids and their parents is real, but not limited to technology.  Technology just intensifies it.  The parents consider themselves "web savvy" but what they really mean is that they can find content they want on the internet--travel, stocks, recipes, etc.  They send email.  BUT--they don't socialize online.  They don't realize (or are just beginning to) that they haven't taught their children how to behave online. They don't generate or manage content themselves.  Web 2.0 escapes these parents and they don't even realize it until their kids do something inappropriate--the kid who posts a scantily clad picture of her friend taken at a slumber party.  Nobody ever told them early on that it wasn't acceptable behavior because their parents couldn't imagine it happening until after it already started. 

Another thing that struck me was the sense of entitlement kids have about their online lives and their "right" to privacy.   If you have a secret, you might tell one friend.  If you have a website that 400 of your friends (some of whom you haven't ever met) can visit, it's not personal or private.  It's a club.  A closed club, but a club nonetheless.  I've diigoed (is that a verb now?) some resources I've found that discuss the appropriateness of actually social networking with your child and their friends as opposed to engaging in social networking in order to understand their world better.  In tonight's talk, I'll use these pictures to explain the concept.  Remember the skate rink in the 80's?  Well. . .

Mom just can't be cool at the skate rink.

I am optimistic that young children (the under 10 set) will not only grow up with constant internet (we can't change that), but will also grow up with parents who aren't caught by surprise by what they are doing (this we can change) and who expect them to be open with their families about what they are doing (this can be part of a family's culture from the beginning).  I am strongly encouraging all of my friends with children to participate in social networks.  Because we need to stay on the bus (or hop back on if we dropped off at googling recipe ingredients and emailing baby pictures).  It's going to be hard to get on the bus in 9 or 10 years if we don't. 

Not that this is magic.  We've been telling kids not to drink and drive forever and some still die every year in tragic wrecks.  They assure us as 5th graders that they will never, ever smoke, then sneak cigarettes as teens.  It's the nature of some teens to rebel, sneak around, experiment.  It's the nature of parents to try to keep them safe while they do that.  I'd love to know what people think.
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why Stay "On Site" For Blogging?

For our sixth grade reading blogs, I've chosen to limit them to our website using First Class's blogging feature.  Their audience is limited to their teachers and classmates, and only those people can respond.  I've thought about this quite a bit lately.  Should we move over to David Warlick's fantastic blogmeister and let the students write for a larger audience, but anonymously?  I don't think so, and here's why.  Daniel Pink talks about the importance of empathy in his book A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  It seems to me that, before we take on the anonymity of the web, we need to teach students that behind each blog, each opinion, each thought, is a living, breathing person.  Later on, we can explore the idea of a persona as opposed to a person.  There are 72 sixth graders, and several faculty in our blog group.  That's a pretty big audience for an 11-year old.  Probably big enough for something as personal as your thoughts and ideas about what you read.  I've seen such growth in their writing and reflection in the last few months.  I'm convinced this is the way to go.  BTW--First Class is a wonderful program, so much more than email if anyone is interested.

Does this mean I don't think they should publish to a broader audience ever?  No, and I really need to work on that.  There are some awesome mp3's that the students have made about our blood drive that I'd like to publish (I don't think I'll call them podcasts, although I guess that is technically what they are).  So there's my next goal--getting a few works published to a larger audience and discussing to the students the differences.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jing--a very cool tool

Jing is one cool tool! Screencasting for free. I've written a few, but many of them are GDS specific, like how to deal with our gradebook system First Class email help. Here's a screencast I made to teach students how to record themselves using Audacity. We use this all the time to have students read their work aloud prior to turning it in. Why? Several reasons. We are working on their reading fluency, we want them to read with expression, we want them to revise their written work more carefully. They have to turn the mp3 in with their final draft. This has had a dramatic impact on student writing. Much more so than peer editing, although we still use that.

Note--this is not a professional screencast. If I were afraid to share it with students unless it was perfect, I'd never do this stuff. There's a point where I get a frog in my throat (I hit pause for the major throat clearing though) and another where I can't find the file I want. I like to think these imperfections make it more human and help foster my connection with the kids. To me, this embodies 21st century literacy--try it, don't be afraid to be imperfect, and share. The kids have no interest in making screencasts about schoolwork, but they sure did about some of their gaming features. I tremble to think that there might be some screencasts out there about how to use a proxy server...

Moving Over Here

I mentioned that I've failed at blogging on more than one occasion. Below are some posts from a blog I started on my school site in the fall (07)when I began immersion teaching in a sixth grade language arts class. I'm re-ordering them so they are in chronological order, then adding my commentary.

August 21, 2007
I'm so excited to start the school year this year.
We're doing some new and different things with the laptops and reading and writing that are based on the research Mrs. Jones and I have been doing for the past year. I hope the students will enjoy this course.

Sixth grade is the first year of our 1:1 program, so that was a natural fit for this experiment in immersing the technology integrationist in the classroom.

August 29th, 2007
What's the difference between Google, Wikipedia, and a subscription-based online encyclopedia? This was the guiding question for today's classes as we looked for the answers to questions the students generated after reading about Eliza's escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. This article by Roy Rosenzweig that originally appeared in The Journal of American History Volume 93, Number 1 (June, 2006) does as good a job as any discussing the academic validity of Wikipedia. My take on Wikipedia is that it can be an okay jumping off point for students, but it really serves as the "go to" resource for certain types of information, say information about old sci fi films and their special effects. Why? Think about the population intersection between Internet nerd and sci fi geek!

This was the beginning of our year-long effort to think critically about information sources. We did and still do a great deal of reading on paper (short stories, magazines, books) along with web research.

August 27 and 28, 2007
Today we introduced the Inspiration™ software to the students via my laptop as we created a KWL (What I Know, What I Wonder or Want to Know, What I Learned) in preparation for a guided reading activity with a short story about an exciting escape via the Underground Railroad. I think the students enjoyed the class. Even though the block is 90 minutes long, the pace changes as we move their desks to different formations (we'll have to do desk drills some rainy day) for the activities.

Inspiration is fabulous software. It's become part of our general productivity toolbelt. I want to make sure this spreads beyond the sixth grade.

September 17th, 2007
Wow--I am behind already! The students are really enjoying their laptops. Today we finished updating everyone's anti-[all bad stuff] software. I missed them while they were on their trip. Now we're finally doing the summer reading activities and benchmark assessments for reading fluency. We're using Read Naturally to evaluate/improve reading fluency with a particular focus on non-fiction text for the beginning of the year.

Aha, my first acknowledgment that I am a lousy blogger. More to come, I'm sure. Read Naturally was interesting, but what we really ended up using to evaluate reading comprehension and fluency:
DRA2, QRI and Scholastic Reading Inventory. None of them are tech tools, which speaks to my point about how difficult it can be to explain what I do.

November 27, 2007
Well, October was a great month. Busy. Now we're at the end of November and it is time to think about the skid into Winter Break that happens every year.

Ah yes, the final cry of defeat. Busy. It's my excuse for all sorts of failings, never mind that it happens to be true too. It reminds me that I need to be more sympathetic to those who tell me they are "too busy" to learn about technology.

Next post--tools I use and love this year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

21st Century Literacy

My last post for the night, I promise. What is 21st Century Literacy? First, and foremost, it is a literacy. Not a skill. When we teach skills, and I know we have to, that is only the beginning. When we teach them literacy, we've set them free. 21st Century Literacy?

Think. Communicate your thoughts. Collaborate with other thinkers. Think some more. Create. None of these are technology skills. But technology makes all of them happen far faster, better, and deeper than ever before.

Literacy starts with reading. A generation ago, the common wisdom was that reading would become less and less necessary. I would argue that reading is more important than ever.

Yes, the cliché is true that we have to prepare students for careers that haven’t been invented yet. But it is also true that we have to prepare them to re-invent themselves and their skill set again at 30, 40, 50; long after they’ve left "schooling." How many of us are modeling this? How many of us are still relying mainly on the skills we were taught? When we need to know how to do something new, what do we do? Ask to be taught or jump in and start learning? (Have you ever heard "I'd really like to learn something about this Web 2.0 stuff, will you offer a workshop?") I know I'm being unfair, workshops definitely have their place, but the best workshops offer just a touch of teaching and lots of discovery and engagement with a resource (me) available for help.

Today in class students blogged their reading books and responded to other blogs. Would reading journals serve the same purpose? Maybe to the teacher, but not to the students. Teens are desperate to talk to each other. We've given them a higher plane to carry on the conversation and they are engaged in discussing, evaluating and comparing books. We had an oral discussion of what makes a blog entry interesting and worth commenting on. Moving on, students used some advanced word processing features to collaboratively analyze the differences between a summary and a synthesis of a non-fiction article. They then pulled up the webs they'd made of their articles (there had summarized one of 10 articles pre-selected) and expanded the webs to include their thinking about their reading (metacognition). Tonight they'll finish their rough drafts. They'll use software to record an mp3 of their synthesis and practice reading with expression. Then they'll listen to themselves as they re-read and revise their draft. Is any of this the "shock and awe" use of technology Sam Morris of Cary Academy describes so well? Nope. Is it powerful? Yes! Transformative? Yes!

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant, while certainly a great attention-getter/catch phrase, isn’t a helpful designation in terms of educational technology. Why? Because history teaches us that some immigrants are far better equipped to thrive in a new land than the natives. Once they know the language, even if they keep an accent for the rest of their lives (I’ll never be able to use “i” to mean ME) they will flourish. I think most of Prensky's critiques apply more to what I'd call Digital Tourists. Why? Here's my guess.

Prensky says that
Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet
My experience is that this is not necessarily true. The student who is completely absorbed in WoW may not know how to find non-gaming information on the web in any organized, helpful way. The avid filmmaker may never have a single programming experience in her K-12 career. Terms such as "technology" and "digital language" are sweeping umbrella terms for fields as varied as pottery, medicine, and trucking. Expertise in one does not translate into or prevent facility in another. Educators know this. They are overwhelmed by the vastness of what they do not know and they shut down. This does not need to be!

I'm an immigrant in the digital world Prensky describes . However, because I was fortunate enough to be well-educated by dedicated public school teachers and a life-long learning parent, I'm a pretty darn comfortable immigrant. I don't "do" second life, even a little bit. Not a gamer. I contribute to several Nings and Wikis regularly, and feel free to edit others I visit when the spirit moves me. I follow several bloggers, use Flock to track them, along with my friends in Facebook. I make fabulous Christmas cards, digital and paper. I used YouTube recently to convince a friend to buy a new carseat. I stay connected with my family via video skype calls, tweet my friends and professional contacts. I exercise while listening to Women of Web 2.0 podcasts (I know, very, very nerdy). This is sounding like a "me, me, me, look at me" so I'll stop here. My point is that, among my education peers and my age group, I do a lot and yet I don't come anywhere near "doing it all" in terms of technology. I talk with kids every day, and none of them do it all either. The difference is, they're comfortable with it.

Next question: What does it take to teach 21st Century Literacy?

I'm not a blogger

I've tried. Three, four entries with increasing timespan between them until the trickle stops completely. I'm not much of one for journaling and that is what blogging has seemed to be to me, although I am fascinated by and follow many bloggers (I'll set that up later). I write all the time, but my words are usually directed somewhere external.

Why a new blog now? It is time for a manifesto of sorts, and none of my Nings seem to be the place to put such a thing. I came close to doing a major edit on a Wiki I am involved with, but I wanted this signed and dated and MINE. I don't want to post these particular ideas on my school hosted site since I'm not limiting myself to discussion of technology there, so here I am.

My latest frustration is that I can't seem to answer the simplest of questions "what do you do?" I am involved with the instructional use of technology to help students learn and teachers teach. Seems straightforward. My non-technology education background includes special education, middle school, science, language arts and reading. It's not as mixed up as it seems, most of those happened in conjunction with one another. My technology education background evolved over the last 15 years as it did for many of us who started with 10 Macs in a makeshift lab in a converted storage closet. So maybe that is my point. If I'm a tech integrationist, then aren't I also a teacher of reading and writing? A teacher of problem-solving? A teacher who uses differentiation? Of course. But recognition of dual functionality is hard to communicate in academia and, apparently, hard to budget.
How do I explain the value I add to an educational program? Why is the already excellent classroom in which I've been immersed this year better now than it was before I arrived? That sounds like another post. . .