And That’s the Way It Is…

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The famous Walter Cronkite would always sign off with the catch phrase, “and that’s the way it is.”  News anchors through the years have delivered summaries of important world events.  From Cronkite to Rather and of course Peter Mansbridge, trusted reporters deliver the facts.  So Krista, Liz and I thought it might be fun to try a  news cast for our summary of learning.  They are both colleagues, part of my core team and an incredible support for me in my teaching.  We had never worked with green screens before and it was a great opportunity to learn some new tech and have some fun. This semester has been an incredible journey and a great learning opportunity.  Gaining a deeper understanding of the theories behind tech implementation in the classroom was a big part of my learning during this class.   I had some previous knowledge of theory behind education but my practice has changed now to the point where I analyze each activity using tech to ensure the usage of tech for the right reasons.  Theory has also played a role in the ways that I examine my current practice and the ways that I teach.  In addition, The course created a great community of teachers and learners interested and engaged in pushing each other further along the edtech path.  Also, It offered a great opportunity to learn some new tricks, tips and tech tools to help us in our professional lives.  I especially enjoyed learning about the new technologies that may one day be the norm for teaching and learning such as virtual and augmented reality.  It seems as though the more we learn about edtech, the more there is to know.  I resolved as I was reviewing the course to keep 4 things in mind in the coming year.

  1. Evaluate tech tools based on theory
  2. Design the task and accompanying tech with authenticity
  3. Master tech tools that are useful in your practice
  4. Don’t over extend, take your time

There is no rush to the finish line in learning about edtech.  We are each learning at our own pace and doing what works in our own contexts.  The constant shifting in technology will always mean that we are trying to catch up.  Never forget where tech started.  Pencils and chalkboards were once considered cutting edge.  So I’ll simply end by saying, that’s the way it is…”

Please enjoy…

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Assistive Technology: Putting A Stop To ‘Other’ing in Society

I have not had many experiences with assistive technology over the years but I will attempt to share my thoughts regarding the role of technology in levelling the playing field for students with disabilities or to enhance learning.  I have taught 2 students with hearing impairments over the years and they each required a microphone in order to hear what was going on in the classroom.  The 2 students approached this difficulty in differing ways however.  One student needed a sound system used in the classroom and thus students and teachers would talk into the microphone in order for her to hear.  The other student had a system that transmitted directly to his hearing aids and was therefore able to hear without the need for an amplifier.assistive-technology-1  It was interesting to see the other students’ reactions to the different systems.  In the first case, many of the students loved using the microphone for presentations and class discussions.  The microphone became similar to a talking stone that indicated when others should listen.  It became a bit more cumbersome at times but overall, it was a very positive experience.  I have also taught a student who had a personal laptop with Kursweil in order to help him take notes and complete assignments.  Students in all cases were very supportive and understanding.  I think one aspect that is often forgotten is the teaching around equity and what it means for student success.  I often hear the argument about fidgets from students that they believe it’s unfair if certain students receive special tools to use in class.  This is due to the fact that before any teaching is done on metacognition, students tend to see fidgets or even assistive technology as something that they should all have access to. When I first begin these conversations with Middle Years students I often give students a learning styles type of personal evaluation to start the conversation.  Then we talk about how each of us learns best.  Finally I have the kids do some writing about how they like to learn.  Photo Credit

The key here is to remember that the same solutions do not apply to all cases.  That is why pre-teaching around metacognition and student success is crucial.  The meaning of what success looks like for each student must be considered by both parents, students and teachers alike.  It may also mean that it is not simply those with physical or mental disabilities that have need of assistance.  These assistive technologies may mean something as simple as a pair of glasses for someone with poor vision or as complex as speech to text software for those who cannot speak.  Students often want to try some of the technologies to see if they fit with their needs.  However, I always make it clear that a person doesn’t wear glasses or hearing aids if they weren’t needed.  In the same way, evaluation of needs for learning supports is critical.  As we seek to help evaluate which students are in need of which specific aids, it is paramount that we keep in mind that not only should we as teachers seek to find tools but also to break down unjust barriers to enhance student success.    equity

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For example, it is not possible to remove someone’s inability to walk, however, we can remove barriers that keep that student from achieving.  Whereas equality provides the same supports for everyone, equity is much more fluid.  It encompasses anyone and everyone who may need a little help.  As Naomi states, the biggest barriers to successful AT integration are access and training.  Natalie also points out the need for PD on this subject as many teachers have little or no training and LRT’s are stretched thin.  In the video below, Sam is able to attend college classes and even take his own notes using his Ipad and computer.  Were Sam to have been born in another century, he would certainly not have access to these sorts of opportunities.  The world has been opened in an unprecedented way and the future will surely only continue to give freedom to those in need of some sort of assistance.  Sam can now feel like he can contribute and manage his own learning.

Those with extreme disabilities are in no way different from others.  As is mentioned by Henry Evans in the video below, if we both want to go 60 kph, we will both need a piece of assistive technology called a car.  Therefore it is also important to remember that assistive technology is not a sign of weakness or a problem.  Those who struggle to complete certain tasks have been ‘othered’ by society for long enough and by constantly keeping them down, we reassign power to those in the centre.  Unfortunately, it is often because of assistive technologies that students are viewed as different, strange or weird.  Because they are often very visible, it is crucial to have meaningful conversations with students at the outset about how we each learn in different ways and what equity looks like in the classroom.  I usually begin each year with these types of discussions for that very reason.  Not only does it help each student to take part in some self-reflection about their own learning style, it also allows us to discuss the ways in which we support one another as a learning community.

It will be an exciting time for students in the coming years.  Technology will allow those who have been previously marginalized to not only participate but also to thrive in our classrooms and in society.  I often have to repeatedly reevaluate my practice keeping in mind the various needs that exist in my classroom.  I still struggle with this and I wonder what tech tools or practices exist that allow teachers to plan with student success in mind?  What is the best way to implement these strategies?  Should we still be considering learning styles when we talk about AT?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Virtual Reality: Step into the Future

The intention of this week’s blog was to discuss a piece of educational software or media  and do an in-depth analysis of its potential and drawbacks in a classroom setting.  Since we presented this week, I had already done quite a bit of research into Kahn Academy and its ability to aid teachers in flipping their classrooms.  Since most of my limited readership has already been forced to listen to me for a full hour, I will look into a piece of tech/software that I think is very cool.  The idea of virtual reality is not something new but it is becoming more accessible.  In fact the New York Times just released a new film that can be viewed using a smartphone and Googles cardboard VR headsets.  Using a pre folded piece of cardboard, a smartphone, and Google VR Apps/Software, virtual reality can be brought into the classroom for little to no cost.  This is especially true for schools with higher socio-economic status due to the fact that most students will have their own devices to use with the viewers.  The possibilities are really endless when it comes to these virtual field trips.  However, are students simply consumers or can they interact in these virtual worlds?

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Many of the Google expeditions are based on the core sciences/social sciences and provide a different perspective to traditional textbook and lecture teaching.  Not only that, students can also capture and create their own VR experiences to share with their classmates and with the rest of the world.  Take Unity 3D as an example.  In this platform students can not only use an avatar to explore Egyptian or Mayan ruins, they can also build and create their own virtual representations to be explored by others.  In WiloStar 3D, students can take virtual secondary and post secondary courses in virtual environment using an avatar to interact with other students and professors.   Using the IOS or Android Apps from Google, sound and images are recorded in sync for others to enjoy in 3D.  Here are some other virtual worlds with an educational theme or focus:

It seems as if the rise in VR technology has pushed it into the mainstream.  Even in the 600th episode of The Simpsons, VR will make an appearance in the couch gag to open the show.  During the gag, a URL will appear on the screen which will direct viewers to the Google app in which they will be able to use their VR Cardboard viewers to enter the world of the Simpsons.

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The headsets can be ordered from Google or you can try your hand at making your own following the directions in the video below.  Here is the link to the template needed to make your very own headset.  With such an affordable tool, the possible benefits for students are many.  With the teacher as a guide, students can now visit world heritage sites, ancient ruins, archeological digs and much more.  Students can explore, analyze, discuss and get a true experience of what it’s like to be in these amazing places.  This software seems like it fits very well in the constructivist/connectivist school of thought in that it offers choice and freedom for students, allows them to build on preconceived knowledge, allows discussion and social interaction, and engages students in a meaningful way.  In addition, students will be able to interact with vivid objects in a sequential pattern that will mimic real world experience.  This will invariably lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences for students because they will see the effects of their chains of decisions within the VR app.

There are numerous advantages of using VR in the classroom and this technology may hold the key to the reason why our current system still sees many students falling through the cracks.  As William Win stated, “Since a great many students fail in school because they do not master the symbol systems of the disciplines they study, although they are perfectly capable of mastering the concepts that lie at the heart of the disciplines, it can be concluded that VR provides a route to success for children who might otherwise fail in our education system as it is currently construed.”  A second advantage of VR in the classroom addresses the all too familiar problem that arises when some students have mastered concepts being taught while others need remedial support.  VR allows students to literally become participants in their own learning which inevitably boosts motivation.  According to Dr. Veronica Pantelidis, “virtual reality allows students to progress at their own pace without being held back at a class schedule while also motivating them to learn.”

As an example, here is a tour of the amazing and historical Buckingham Palace.  On the screen you can click to move your view around the room as the tour is happening.  Using a VR headset, you can tilt your head to look around the room and advance to explore things you see or hear in the tour. Active rather than passive experience is a key benefit to VR in the classroom which is just one of many possible benefits including;

  • Immersive experience means no distractions
  • Immediate engagement: useful in today’s world of limited attention spans
  • Exploration and hands on approach aids with learning and retention
  • Helps with understanding complex subjects/theories/concepts
  • Suited to all types of learning styles, e.g. visual

So, why aren’t we all rushing out to spend money on this new technological trend?  Simply put, the recent rethinking of Ipads in the classroom has school divisions reevaluating what educational technology should look like.  Cost is a huge deterrent as well, even considering Google cardboard.  Finally, it is also clear that the technology may not lend itself as easily to teaching in some subject areas and depends on BYOD policies that can be problematic for some schools and impossible to implement in others.  Despite all of this, I do think that we will begin to see more VR in classrooms as costs come down and VR software specific to curricula is built.

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What do you think?  Is virtual reality the next trend in educational technology?  Let me know in the comments section below.

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Who Killed Educational Television?

When I was born in 1985 this song was already 6 years old.  When I first heard it in the mid 90’s I found the lyrics intriguing.  It’s a classic example of the rate at which technology changes.  In the end as we all know, radio has never succumbed to the power of video and it could be argued that radio and video have both been given an incredible boost by their younger brother; the internet.  It may not be in the same format but online/streaming radio content and podcasts are are available at the click of a button on any device.  Video has seen a similar boost as more and more people cut their cable and move to online streaming video content providers.  Netflix, Hulu, Crave, the list goes on and on.  Even traditional TV service providers are migrating their content online.  So what about educational content on television/radio?  Is it still an effective means of delivering supplemental educational content?  Who are the major players and what is their end game?

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It’s clear that from it’s inception, the idea of delivering educational content via radio and television waves was novel and exciting.  This was true for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the ability to reach a wide audience.  Educational content could be seamlessly beamed into homes and schools across the world through radios and TV’s.  Programs created by different companies and broadcasters looked at ways to engage kids and deliver some additional educational content.  It can’t be argued that educational television and radio was ever meant to replace traditional public schooling.  However, it became very apparent with the emergence of television in the 40’s and 50’s that the potential to reach a wide audience of children would mean a uniform message could be transmitted to the general public.  If you think about it, even PSA’s followed this same pattern.  When it was decided by research firms or government agencies that a message needed to be delivered, a PSA was recorded and broadcast.  The same went for televised educational content such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or SchoolHouse Rock.  The wide array of possibilities that lay before broadcasters was unprecedented.     reading-rainbow

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Secondly, the access to popular music and culture lent itself to the incorporation of these pop culture elements into the content being broadcast.  This was the story behind SchoolHouse Rock.  It’s creator David McCall noticed his son having trouble with multiplication tables but he seemed to be able to remember popular rock songs.  He began writing and producing animated shorts covering topics like science, math, social studies, etc.  Personally I still remember some of these classic songs such as “Conjunction Junction” and “Electricity”.  They were short, catchy, and I would often find myself humming them as I went about my day.

ABC also had a huge success in Reading Rainbow, a program that encouraged reading among young viewers through themed episodes.  The award winning and long running program has now been released as an IOS and Android app.  Sesame Street is another perfect example of the use of popular culture, songs and educational content to teach life lessons as well as core content.  From puppets to famous actors and pop stars appearing alongside beloved characters, Sesame Street captured the hearts of generations of kids and taught countless lessons.  In this example, Robin Williams discusses and demonstrates conflict with the puppets.

Mr. Dressup, and Mr Rogers Neighbourhood were also amazing examples of children’s educational programming that sought to engage, dazzle and release the creative potential of children.  So what is the state of educational Audio/Visual in the 21st century?  Are these types of shows still being created? And, what is the true educational value of such programming?

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It seems as though there is less and less quality educational programming being produced these days.  Especially of the nature that was seen in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  Through examination of educational programming that is currently on the air, it is difficult to gauge the educational value of some of the programs now being offered to children.  I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and there are several things we have noticed recently when it comes to educational television offerings.  The first thing we noticed when we started exploring TV shows to watch with our kids was that there are very few that offer children live action or real world characters to engage with.  The vast majority of the shows for ages 5 and under are flashy, high paced, fast cut, loud and repetitive cartoons or computer animations.  It could be argued that this is vastly more engaging to kids than listening to a live human being.  That may be true to some extent, but I still think that sometimes it’s important for kids to see interactions between real people.  I would argue that students need more and more stimuli in this day and age in order for them to stay engaged.  Why do you think kids have such a hard time listening in class?  I love pulling up old Sesame Street clips on Youtube and my kids love them too.  Secondly, the majority of children’s television shows today have very little content directly related to what I would call values teaching.  Sure some of the shows talk about colours, numbers and shapes but what about teaching things like, empathy, kindness, sharing, and hard work.  Themes that used to be staples of shows like Mr. Dressup are being replaced with limited educational content and flashy adventures that are just meant to sell action figures and video games.  Of course TV shows from my generation also marketed their characters as toys, lunch boxes etc.  However, I see a fundamental difference in the deliberate choices being made by producers of some of these new children’s shows.

Now clearly it is the parents job to be teaching their kids and no TV show could ever replace the real-world lessons that come from good parenting practices.  However, I do wish that more children’s shows incorporated positive values teaching into their programming.  One example of a show that does focus on a mixture of values education and basic skills knowledge is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, a spinoff of Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood.  In the show, which features decoupage, and animation mixed with live interviews with kids and parents, the kids learn valuable problem solving and life skills.  Our kids still sing the songs to remember things like sharing, showing kindness, helping others and even when to go potty.  “If you have to go potty, stop and and go right away.  Flush and wash and be on your way!”

So is Educational Television dead?  I don’t think so but it certainly seems to be moving in a more commercialized direction.  If the goal of the producer and broadcaster is marketing and making money off of the program, it may mean that the content is suffering or lacking altogether.  If you’re not sure about the content of a show, check out Common Sense.  The site allows parents to see evaluations of popular kids shows and media broken down by age level.  It’s a good start for parents or educators who are unsure if the benefits of a certain show outweigh the costs.  In addition, we perhaps need to remember some key questions to ask when evaluating educational audio/visual.

  1. Who is producing the content and what are their underlying motivations?
  2. What messages are being transmitted?
  3. Is this lesson teachable through some other means? ie) Real World examples or hands on problem solving?
  4. Parents should set limits on the amount of TV per day.
  5. Teachers should use audio/visual as an aid, not a replacement for quality designed learning activities.

What do you think?  Is the quality of educational television lacking today?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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No Fair: Does Technology Support Equity?

Technology is the promise of the future.  It is touted as the great equalizer.  The tools that will bring education to the underprivileged, those with disabilities and those on the margins of society.  It has the promise of breaking down barriers, of helping us all communicate better and of bringing equity to the world.  But, is technology living up to these promises?  What is the evidence that we have indeed begun bridging the digital divide?  In a recent Financial Post Study, evidence suggests that even in a developed country like Canada, disparity with regard to access and internet fluency not only still exist but are being exacerbated.  As is noted in the study, age and income both play significant roles in who accesses technology and also how it is used.

“People with some post-secondary education (and who were no longer students) had Internet-use rates nearly 10 per cent higher than people with just a high school diploma, and nearly 50 per cent higher than those without a diploma.” -Financial Post

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The question has to be asked, can technology really bridge gaps such as income disparity?  After-all, at the end of the day the technology has the potential to allow access to a myriad of learning opportunities.  People have access to apps like duolingo, coursera, MOOCs, online information hubs, and translations tools.  The problem is not necessarily the programs and software but the access to internet service and hardware.  How can these services be considered equitable learning opportunities if students do not all have access to the technology?  In addition, it has become clear that technology, even when applied across a range of different socio-economic classrooms, does not benefit all students in the same way.  Harvard Education has undertaken a study outlined in the video below that indicates that the use of a platform such as wiki as an example, is disproportionately benefiting those students who come from higher income brackets and have higher socio-economic status.

So what is the solution?  Clearly the teachers and innovators need to have a strong social justice focus as we engage in these questions.  As mentioned in the video, tools that are specifically designed and targeted at low income and marginalized youth can have a greater impact than simply applying the same broad technology strokes to the entire class and expect the technology to magically transform our students.  Technology in education is an amazing gift and I use it every day and am so thankful for it, however, it can not take the place of personalized learning.  Due to issues of access and socio-economic status, we are still not able to offer the same advantages to these students as the privileged already receive.

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Growing up in Africa meant I was able to experience a different world of education than what we are accustomed to here in Canada.  My friends went to school in which they had 1 pencil for every 10 students.  This meant that as the students sat in rows on the dirt floor, the first person in the line would copy down the notes, pass the pencil on to the next person and so on and so forth.  Is it equitable that these students do not have the opportunity to experience technology in their education?  Maybe not, but it may not be that far off.  Programs like Youth Learning, and the Text to Change project are being implemented in third world countries in order to engage youth in technology and give them a voice in a digital world in which they were not citizens.

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“Technology has the potential to be a huge force for good but it is not a silver bullet, a fix-all solution to how to fix the education and employment problems for young people in developing countries,” says Kenny. “Yet one thing is clear – it will undoubtedly play an increasingly important part of millions of young people’s lives across the world.”-Charles Kenny

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Technology has tremendous potential to affect positive change in the lives of millions of people who are not currently a part of the world you live in right now.  The ease with which we can access and share information across the world in this day and age is unprecedented.  In our own schools here in Saskatchewan, tech tools are allowing creativity to flourish in those that would not otherwise have an outlet.  They are giving hope to those can can’t access traditional learning environments, they are giving a voice to the voiceless.  But the work is not done.  As you are reading this, just remember that there are millions of others around the world right now, and probably in your city or town, who have no way to read this blog.  As educators, let us not be caught in the techno-colonial trap of presuming that as we bring technology to the poor and downtrodden of society, we will be the saviours once again.  Equity must mean more than simply providing the same tools to all.  Personalized learning is the key to success.  We must ask ourselves, what are the individual needs of this student, of this class, of this community?  For many students throughout the world, physiological needs will supersede a simple piece of technology.

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Then again for others…

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The More We Share, the More We Have

I’ve been thinking recently about openness, sharing, and their places in education.  As technology has made its way further and further into education systems across the globe, the ability to share information has been  made vastly more accessible in recent years.  With a powerful device in almost every student and teachers’ pocket, there are limitless possibilities to how information and learning can be shared.  Teachers are using sites like Twitter, Facebook, Edublogs and Wikispaces to document and share their learning with the wider world.  Open course sites like Coursera, and Massive Open Online Courses are changing the way that information is disseminated and online collaboration tools such as Google and Mindmeister have afforded people the opportunity for amazingly creative works.  This is truly the age of open source learning.  However, open source learning without sharing is moot.

So, is sharing all that it’s cracked up to be?  We now live in a world in which sharing every minute detail of each moment of our lives has become normal.  We share photos of what food we’re eating, the shoes we just bought or the thoughts that pop into our head.  With openness comes inherent dangers as this video demonstrates.

Due to these types of online sharing in which no filter is applied, I have often asked the following questions, how much sharing is too much?  Is sharing inherently dangerous?  What is the role of online sharing in education?  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?  In my teaching career thus far I have been what I would call a cautious sharer.  I have a very detailed form that goes home to parents on the first day of school explaining the different platforms we use and allowing parents to give permission for the use of student photos.  We have student blogs but they are viewable only by parents, teachers or other students.  We also have a class twitter account but tweets are composed by myself or in conjunction with students to share what we are learning in the classroom.  Often the tweets are focused not on students themselves but on the projects or learning happening in the classroom.  Is this true sharing?  I think it’s a start. However, it is limiting in many ways.  First of all, the students’ writing is seen only by classmates and a select few parents.  Opening the blogging platform to open comments would allow more readers and therefore, more feedback and engagement.  Studies have shown that as students perceive a larger readership, their writing improves.  The connections formed with other classrooms through Twitter could be strengthened by allowing more control to be passed to the students.  So why is it so hard for me to open up our learning environment and allow deeper and more meaningful connections?

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There are several factors that can tend to negate the full potential of connected and open online learning in classrooms.  Firstly, there are inherent risks involved with sharing information online regarding what students are doing.  Location services and GPS tracking in many apps can compromise the safety of students.  There are also many instances in which students need to be protected and anonymous do to court orders or protective custody.  Secondly, there must be an incredible amount of trust between teachers and students in order to allow students the control to share and connect openly and freely.  Obviously this looks different for various age groups.  High school students for example,  are often quite capable of deciding how to share their learning online.  However, this does necessitate some deeper conversations around what should be posted.  For younger students who lack the same discernment skills, this must be modelled and taught. Douglas Park School’s Aaron Warner is a great example of this mentality.  He routinely teaches and models the use of social media and online sharing with his Grade 7/8 class and eventually turns the reigns over to the students.  I believe this is one of the key components of open classrooms.

Education is not a secret, although aspects of good teaching practice can seem illusive at times.  It is a public and necessary part of our society.  I often cringe when parents express to me that they don’t know what is going on in their children’s classrooms.  With the tools we now have at our disposal, parents should have a clear and complete picture of their child’s experiences at school, even if the student themselves is vague on the details.  This was demonstrated during the debate with the short skit about what was being learned at school.  If there is something tangible and real to demonstrate, students will also be more engaged in the sharing process.  There is also a permanent record of what the learning goals are, steps taken to achieve them, and what the outcomes are.

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As is demonstrated by the above sets of data, teens and young adults are some of the most pervasive sharers of information online.  In addition, the reasons why people share online are telling according to the New York Times study.  Let’s look at some of the top reasons people share online and apply an educator’s lens shall we…

1.To share relevant Information…Teachers and students should both be in the habit of sharing information.  Information is wealth and whether it’s teachers sharing lessons and resources with one another, or students sharing their successes and failures (failures?..yes I said failures because this is when true learning occurs).  Application: Teachers need to model for students which information is relevant and useful to be shared as well as who to share it with (how public?).

2. To support causes or issues they care about… This seems like a no brainer.  What a great opportunity to engage students in meaningful conversations about what’s going on in the world around them.  Students can be surprisingly charismatic, caring and engaged when it comes to supporting causes in the community or around the world.  Many times the students are the first to take action, quickly suggesting a support video for Laloche students, or organizing a bake sale to raise money for Cerebral Palsy. This is how meaningful connections are made and global citizens are produced.

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Application: Let students share their passions and the things they care about.  Pick a list of causes that the class wants to connect with or support.  Discuss what it means to be a global citizen.  Challenge students to dream big and to change the world.

3. Connecting with others who share their interests… This is a great opportunity to network with other classes in your age category.  It also allows a chance to model who should be in our followers or friends lists as individuals.  Some of the best lessons I’ve used have come from connections with other classrooms in Saskatchewan and throughout the world.  As students share interests on blog sites or through Twitter, they build a wider audience and engage with the world outside the classroom.  Genius hour is a great example of this.  When we look at genius hour projects of other 7/8 classes the students up the anti.  Application: Let students explore passion projects.  Encourage students to share what they are learning or what they’ve created.  Model at first and compose Tweets or posts together as a class.

4. Expressing self identity and feeling of involvement in the world…This is an opportunity to model the permanency of our digital identity.  Students should build an awareness of how the class is perceived online and what our digital footprint will be.  Discuss with students which parts of our identity we wish to share with the world.  How involved should we be?  Application: Extend this thinking to students’ own personal sharing.  Engage them in discussions about how they should present themselves online.

Let’s take the time and get this one right.  Let’s show our students the power of positive sharing through meaningful connections.

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Let me Google that for You…

This week I had a tough assignment.  I had to debate the question, ‘should schools teach things that can be googled?’  I was arguing the agree side of this debate and I found it challenging to say the least.  I enjoyed researching the science behind how people learn and the importance of meta-cognition in the ways we organize information in our brains and make sense of it.  In essence this debate question came down to whether students should be taught the basic facts that have been standardized across our society or whether we should be encouraging more critical thinking and skill development.  On a much deeper level this becomes a question about curriculum and who decides what knowledge is required for use in society.  For example, is it necessary for everyone in our society to memorize the periodic table of elements?  For those of us who did memorize it in high school, is the recall of that information possible or necessary at this point? Furthermore, the periodic table is easily searchable online and readily available.  I am far from saying that the information in the table is irrelevant, however I am suggesting that the memorization of these types of facts may not be necessary or beneficial for life after school.

Is this to say that we shouldn’t teach anything that we can find online?  On the contrary, their are some sets of knowledge that are necessary at a base level in order to continue the scaffolding of knowledge.  Amy Signh brought up a good point concerning reading and the alphabet.  Can we find the alphabet on Google?  Of course we can, so why do we teach young children to memorize a song that helps them remember the letters?  We do this because this base knowledge is necessary for the development of the SKILL of reading.  Students need to be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet in order to practice and develop their reading skills.  This is a key element because if we intend to prepare students for life after school, we must take the next step and help students move beyond base level memorization of facts to the synthesis, analysis and constructive phases of learning.

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“Students who create, build, invent and lead SOMETHING in high school are those who not only stand out in the college application process, but they are also those who are more sure of themselves and more confident about their abilities.”-Alex Ellison

So how should we be preparing students for life after school.  Firstly, students should be given opportunities to deepen their understanding of material through practical application.  The difference between memorization and understanding is an important distinction that needs to be present in the organization and planning of learning activities.  In essence, teachers need to assure that students are being moved from passive learning to active learning.  In other words, instead of listening to or reading information from a textbook or computer, students should be given opportunities to participate in hands on learning and then reflect on what happened and why.  Research has shown that as knowledge is applied and experienced, it is embedded further in our active memory.

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I have been very involved over the past number of years in the Middle Years Practical and Applied Arts.  As my fellow teachers and I developed kits that allowed the hands on application of scientific and mathematical principles, I began using these types of Project based learning and Inquiry models in my classroom.  I quickly discovered a few very important things.  Firstly, there is an improvement in student engagement inherent in any activity that requires practical application.  I have definitely witnessed students who normally struggle with traditional styles of teaching and learning soar to new heights when given the opportunity.  Students who have difficulty sitting in desks thrive when given a chance to use and develop hands-on skills.  Secondly, the light bulb moments come thick and fast while students are building and discovering together through experiences.  Here’s an example from our classroom in which the students created a Mbira (Finger Piano) while working with fractions, measurement, sound waves, and world cultures.  I could have given my students this information in other ways but I wanted to have them share in a challenging hands-on experience and then reflect through blogging on the process (Meta-Cognition).

It will always be a difficult question to consider.  What and how should students be learning in schools?  Let’s not forget that the entire traditional classroom design was born out of the Industrial Revolution.  Society had to find a way to produce workers for factories that would have a set of basic skills in math and language to be able to continue in the labor force.  Education systems sought to have a standardized set of skills and values adopted by all society members and students, just like future labor force workers were to be compliant and obedient to authority.  The rise of public education was due in large part to the Industrial Revolution but the school system itself was modeled in large part after the factories of the time.  As we now know, we cannot educate students as we move pieces through a factory.  This is why it is crucial that teachers focus on giving students engaging and investigative opportunities for experiential and problem based learning.  In case I’m boring you with my history ramblings, take a break and enjoy Bloom’s Taxonomy According to Sienfeld.

So can we forget about teaching base knowledge because most of those tidbits of information can be found on Google?  The result of this type of teaching approach would most likely result in much confusion and lack of direction.  On the other hand, teaching through wrote memorization exclusively does not serve to challenge our students, make them curious, help them solve problems or give them skills necessary for life in the real world.  Scaffolding is the key and any good teacher is constantly evaluating, planning and reflecting on their students as they move through the levels of blooms taxonomy.  I think we can all remember studying for hours for an exam, only to write it and immediately forget most if not all of the information.  If students are simply memorizing answers for a test, deeper understanding is lacking.  We need to ask ourselves, are our students being given the skills and understanding they need to thrive after the last school bell rings?