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 del.icio.us. 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?

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