Monday, March 17, 2008

My Wife Wrote The Post I'd Been Working On. And I Had A Blogger Format Blowout

My wife made her first iMovie as part of the learning differences/student support fellowship work she's been doing this year. The film asked students and teachers to address the same four prompts:

1. Describe a successful learning experience.

2. Describe an unsuccessful learning experience.

3. Describe the steps you take to learn something new.

4. An effective learner is...

Some thought-provoking patters emerged, as summarized in my wife's post.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Remixing Curriculum: An Interview With Lisa Stewart

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Learning and the Brain conference in San Francisco. The areas of focus were: brain plasticity, learning styles, reading development, emotional responses, and mindsets. If you're interested in more details in these areas, I've been posting my notes, albeit slowly, to Watsoncommon. What I want to write about in this post is a question I asked at the conference for which there wasn't a research-based answer.

It goes like this:

I was in a session about engaging students emotions with curriculum and leveraging their brain's social needs with activities in class. As you can imagine, the examples covered in the session were things like group work, task-specific stations, anticipatory sets that give students the opportunity to generate the essential questions for a unit. And there was all kinds of brain research to show that these kinds of activities trigger the best hormone balance for long-term, meaningful learning to happen. My question was if virtual social environments and activities also create the same ideal brain chemistry for learning.

Apparently, there is no research in this area yet, according to the presenter. So at my school, this has become somewhat of a guiding question. What are effective practices with technology and what are the results? And there are a handful of teachers who are purposefully employing and reflecting on new kinds of activities with these questions in mind. To frame the creation of these activities, we've been using Marzano's research on effective instruction as structure: Identifying similarities and differences, Summarizing, Reinforcing efforts and providing recognition, Practice, Nonlinguistic representations, Cooperative learning, Setting objectives and providing feedback, Generating and testing hypotheses, Cues, questions, and advanced organizers. Let me know if you're interested in the full article.

Lisa, mentioned in my first guest post, is one of the teachers (she's a technology resource teacher too) designing and implementing activities in her class that not only use the technology but explore these essential questions. The other week, I subbed her class and learned about a remix project that she'd given to her students. It was an opportunity to create a nonlinguistic representation of their understanding of Holden Caulfield. In this podcasted interview, Lisa describes the design of the assignment, some observations of the products, and how it led to a different kind of essay. Also embedded below are some example projects, one of which she references in the interview. The Voicethread blew me away! Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

First Guest Post For Beyond School

Well, I'm supposed to be guest blogging over at Beyond School starting today. But Clay and I are still working out some login problems. So I'm going ahead and posting what I will be posting over there:

How I Came To Blog: Talking Story As Integration

I work as, what we call here, a Technology Resource Teacher. Essentially, I'm an English teacher that's been willing to experiment with integrating technology into curriculum, and I've been asked to only teach one class so during the rest of the day I can collaborate with other teachers on all things tech. The high school side of my school has a brand new 1:1 program this year, and there are 4 others that do what I do to help 150 or so faculty (we have 3700 student K-12). What I quickly learned this year is that no matter how many and what kind of workshops we run, how many emails with links and descriptions we send, or who we bring to speak at our curriculum days (these are all amazing resources!), what works best and what people seem to appreciate most is one on one time to work together and talk story about classes, students, curriculum, and where the laptops fit. So I thought I'd do a little of that here in my first guest post. Congratulations Clay!

Two years ago, I hardly knew what a blog was, and, frankly, I didn't feel the need to spend any more time in front of my computer than absolutely necessary. Then, at the beginning of last school year (06-07), I was assigned to teach an upper level Composition course. Pretty generic title, which really should have read: creative non-fiction essay writing. In an English department of nearly 30 teachers, there was only one other person teaching the course that semester. Our weekly meetings were talking story about writing, student writing, the purpose of writing, authenticity of audience, amongst other Englishy (not schooly) topics. At some point Lisa, my colleague, started to tell me about having her students blog their compositions and journals. She explained the idea of a blogosphere, a network of writers interested more or less in the same topics, reading and commenting on each others' posts. Then, it was the concept of the blogroll, something called Organically, the next move seemed to be to try this thing out for myself and my students. Where blogs seemed like they'd fit best was as digital commonplace books; we ask all sophomore to keep an analog version for a quarter to follow and reflect on essential questions and critical thinking exercises. That sounded good, and Watsoncommon began.

I realized a lot of things during the first few months of blogging. Namely, it could easily take over my life. But I welcomed the intellectual insurgency. I didn't write great stuff, but I had a reason (and an audience of 1, maybe 2) to pay patient attention to what happened during my day, in my class. I needed material. This went on, and in early 2007, my wife stumbled on a wiki where edubloggers and blogging classes were listing themselves.(Do you remember this one Clay?) Near the top: "B"eyond School, where there was a call for blogging classes to collaborate. I replied.

Creating our own 2-class blogosphere was a noble first effort, and some really interesting conversations emerged here and there. What became apparent after this collaboration was that the web 2.0 tools were more powerful than we knew, yet the challenge was the same as ever: getting students to be active participants in their own education. Clay's 1001 Flat World Tales writing project on a wiki came next. Being far more teacher-driven, the students had an easier time moving through the project. But Clay, Michelle, and I spent many weekends skyping at respective odd hours and driving the wiki for the kids. Not to mention we had committed ourselves to a grueling 6 week time frame. In the end, we had an annotated and podcasted trail of breadcrumbs, an ebook, some good stories, some engaged students, and a lot of new ideas for the next collaboration. Now, I'm a week deep in 1001 Flat World #2 with Deb Baker's class in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and I'm getting far more sleep this time around.

Since that semester of enlightenment, it's been Moodle, Twitter, Diigo, Ning, the list goes on. Not to mention planning and implementing the vision for our 1:1 program. At some point a couple months ago, I found myself coming full-circle, away from the tools, widgets, and gadgets to stories. The story of collaboration, the story of communication, the story of empowerment, the story of sustainability and stewardship, the story of apprenticeship, the stories of learners. And the stories have me asking these questions:
What is an education?
How can we engage the emotions, passions, and original ideas of students more?
How does a large, successful independent school become a culture of technology?
How can we empower students with an understanding of the way they learn and then nurture it daily?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Okay, I Get It Know: Asynchronous Audio

I sat down to do one thing and ended up doing something completely different. Planning to prep some podcastable media for my guest blogging appearance on Beyond School later this week, I transfered some voice memos that I'd captured on my iPod with my Belkin mic to my iTunes. And I realized that I have 31 untitled voice memo files that at some point I had grand plans for but now sit unrealized. So I decided to listen to a few seconds of each and give them searchable, intuitive titles. Well, a few seconds of each turned in to listening to entire conversations, class discussions, class readings of essays, tour guides from professional development trips, and so on.

This stuff is good. I've always known in theory that it'd be great to have an audio inventory of all the voices from a class or a conversation. But until today, I didn't understand how it could affect learning. I have a hard time getting into podcasting, in general. Not enough time, long episodes, unfamiliar voices, indulgent subject matter, etc. But all that was totally different when I started listening to familiar voices from my own experiences. I was right back on that trip to see Kent Koth at Seattle U's Center For Community Engagement; right back to that outdoor lecture with a docent at Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park; right back to those student-led Harkness discussions of The Poisonwood Bible; right back to close and active reading of creative non-fiction essays in composition last year. (I'm not even halfway through the voice memos at this point). And as a teacher, it's helping me find that elusive-at-the-two-weeks-before-spring-break center for my curriculum and projects. It's empirical, primary source material straight from my class, and in some ways it's a little different than the way my memory molded the anecdotes. As a student, I can only imagine how helpful this resource would be and the ways in which asynchronous audio can be leveraged as a learning tool.

flickr credit: mishkaoutofcontrol

Friday, March 7, 2008

Is A Culture Of Technology Synonymous WIth A 1:1 Laptop Program?

Today I sat with a colleague and watched a webinar on emerging technologies and how to plan for them in a school context. One of the interesting ideas that was presented had to do with what they called mLearning, the m standing for mobile. One of the tools referenced was the U3 Smart Drive.
Carrying one around in my pocket all year, I had no idea that I could transport more than my files. What I learned is that I can store applications like Firefox and Skype. So the concept is that all I need is my drive, and I can plug into any computer anywhere and access my own apps and settings. Lots of implications. I wonder if there are schools out there leveraging these instead of asking their students/parents to pay for laptops?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

PGC In Australia

I'm not going to lie, Project Global Cooling in Hawaii was really stressing me out. I thought that maybe I had gotten myself into something I wouldn't be able to finish. But students have come to the rescue. We've got a club going. We're starting to gather sustainability projects and post them to the PGC site. Our concert planning continues to move forward. And best of all, PGC has led to new collaborations with schools around the world.

Yesterday's Skype with Jenny Luca's class in Melbourne, Australia came just in time. Lately, my days have been filled with meetings, leaving barely enough time for my own class, and next to no time for professional development 2.0. So thanks Jenny for inviting us to talk with your class about our school's sustainability initiative.

flickr photo credit: emptybelly

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Schooliness is: Open Thread

For awhile I've been reading Beyond School where Clay Burell uses the word schooliness in his description of his blog and personal learning mission. I've always felt like I knew exactly what he meant by it. But I was excited to see Wes Fryer's interview with Clay and his open thread invite to ruminate and define the word. I've actually had a hard time while thinking about it since it could easily become a list of complaints about constraints in our respective school contexts. Here are some of my ideas:

Schooliness is a system where grade negotiation is the main motivator for students to come conference and visit with teachers.

Schooliness is the void between what teachers know about how to learn and what students have to guess about how they learn.

Schooliness is the fear of evaluation when colleagues visit your classroom.

Schooliness is believing that there are certain texts that all students need to read.

Schooliness is teaching English as if all the students are on a literature professor career track.

Schooliness is the assumption that becoming a doctor or a lawyer is the pinnacle of academic accomplishment, and the purpose of secondary education.

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flickr photo credit: duconihilum