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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1 comment:

Bill Farren said...

Nice post Sarah. I agree. There's too much fear-based decision making. The writers/researchers of PBS's Growing Up Online found:
One of the biggest surprises in making this film was the discovery that the threat of online predators is misunderstood and overblown. The data shows that giving out personal information over the Internet makes absolutely no difference when it comes to a child's vulnerability to predation. Also, the vast majority of kids who do end up having contact with a stranger they meet over the Internet are seeking out that contact, at least at first.

Most importantly, all the kids we met, without exception, told us the same thing: They would never dream of meeting someone in person they'd met online. As a matter of fact, we had trouble making contact with kids online during our research. Most kids we approached were suspicious and loath to respond to requests for an interview over the phone. We tried everything -- links to our Web site, offers to send copies of films we had made -- but kids are conditioned not to talk to strangers online. It was oddly reassuring.
Cheers, Bill