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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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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A Journey Into the Mind

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For some reason I’ve always loved philosophy and the practice of reasoning.  I took Philosophy 100 as an elective in my first year of university.  The idea of thinking about the way we think is somehow very appealing to me.  From Plato to Descartes, being able to talk about metacognition is a fascinating insight into the power of the human brain.  Although the questions may seem somewhat existential, there is a very real link between philosophy and education.  Questions like “how do we learn?” and “when do we know something?” must be considered foundational pedagogical questions for any practitioner.  The answers to these questions are, in reality, the driving force behind how and why we teach the way we do.  It is why some teachers tend to lean toward lecture vs. hands-on teaching or inductive vs deductive reasoning assignments.  Even the way we assess students or have them interact with information is affected by the way we view learning/knowledge.  Of the major views on knowledge and learning I would say that I tend toward the Constructivist paradigm, although I have been more and more intrigued by the ideas of Connectivism and and Rizhomatic Learning.  I believe strongly that learning is a social construct and that we form ideas through interactions with others.  Building communities of learning with others helps challenge our preconceived ideas and build strong cognitive processes.  In an increasingly digital world, social/digital interactions are becoming a key piece of every young person’s life.  We need only to look at some of the connections that exist already between Canadian classrooms and students all over the world to know that this way of interacting and learning will be crucial in the 21st century.

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Although there are so many variables involved in looking at the way kids learn, I believe there are certain things we can observe about how students process information.  I don’t think we can discount what Maslow has posited that there needs to be a certain set of conditions present.  During my time working in a community school, this became very evident.  If students lack basics like food, proper clothing or the feeling of significance, they are not in a mental space to concentrate/learn.  Once these basics are met, the question becomes, how does this student learn?  In other words, do all students learn in the same way?  According to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory, we can not apply a one-size-fits-all teaching method to our students.  There are some students who may display better retention of material through audio/visual methods, others may profit from hands-on tactile learning methods.  Even though differences in learning styles may be very evident, teachers need to be able to think about not only how information is taken up, but also how students analyze and process information.  For example, are experiences remembered in the same way as pictures or video?  Are students really constructing knowledge sets built of experiences?  Does the mind really work like a processor of information?  Can the mind be explored to understand true thought?  Or, are we simply reacting to what goes on in the world around us?  Perhaps it’s beneficial to take a cross-cultural view of knowledge and how we learn.

For example, in Africa, age is an  important determining factor and prerequisite for certain social tasks.  Everything is taught through doing.  Boys accompany their fathers or grandfathers to learn to hunt, collect honey, herd cattle, plant/harvest, or pick mangoes.  Girls follow their mothers or grandmothers as they thresh grain, cook, gather firewood, make fires, milk goats or make peanut butter.  The cycle goes as follows; observation of the skill performed by the older practitioner, skill practiced with help or close supervision, and then skill practiced independently until mastered.  These skills are needed for the well being of the family unit and so are given a high priority.  These are in many ways similar to the ways of knowing that are traditional among First Nations in Canada as well.          

In this short video by Dr. Martin Brokenleg, the Circle of Courage is explained as a philosophy of learning that is central to the ethos of First Nations life and culture.  The circle can be used to enhance learning in a different way.  The student consists of a mind, body, heart and spirit.  In order to have a complete and healthy person, he/she must have a complete circle made up of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity.  I believe looking at learning from a more wholistic perspective definitely has some benefits.  We cannot simplify learning into a purely cognitive brain function.  To do so would be to say that emotion, interest or engagement plays no role in learning.  This is simply not true and we can often see that when students are engaged or are given some autonomy in the learning process, they flourish.  Building a sense of belonging, independence, mastery or generosity during the learning process will not only help students become lifelong learners, it will also help them become confident and capable members of our global community.  Isn’t that why we are educators?

After looking into the various learning theories, I have to say that I lean more significantly toward Social Constructivism.  I believe that human beings are social creatures and that we learn through constructing meaning from interactions and experiences.  I love the mentorship model that many native cultures around the world espouse.  I find it sad that we here in North America have forgotten what it means for a ‘village to raise a child’.  It takes a community of invested and trusting adults to raise up a child who has a complete circle of courage.  In the digital age, Connectivism is simply a continuation of this same theory.  Growing and learning together whether face to face or online.   It was Orange Shirt day yesterday and I was discussing with my Grade 9 class what reconciliation meant to them in the wake of residential schools.  I asked students to write down words that came to mind when they thought of reconciliation.  This is the list according to frequency that we came up with.  I think this is a good example of the ways in which knowledge and learning are enhanced by connection, support and community.  It is the only way to move forward in the face of difficulty.    wordcloud-1

 

Can We Fight the Future?

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In many ways I’m disappointed that this class has come to an end.  Discussing edtech issues with fellow educators from all over the country has been a privilege.  I have definitely had to evaluate my point of view and it has undergone changes again and again.  I have been challenged to think critically about how I use technology in my classroom and I have even been presented with issues that I had not previously considered.  It was intriguing to speak with fellow educators who have very different viewpoints on educational technology.  It was very encouraging to discover that whether teachers are for or against edtech, a genuine love for students and a concentration on their needs was foremost.  Throughout the course I came to several key realizations which I will attempt to summarize here.

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The first debate covered the merits of technology in the classroom and I came to the conclusion that technology for the sake of itself is a perilous venture.  Each integration of technology in the classroom must be weighed and measured for it’s ability to enhance the learning for students.  Teachers should not be scared to abandon certain aspects of their edtech strategy if it proves inefficient or contrary to learning.  Secondly, we discussed whether we should be teaching content that can be found on Google.  I came to a strong realization that there are certain pieces of information that must be scaffolded and therefore must be memorized.  However, I also am a strong believer in challenging students with critical questions and real world problems that cannot be simply searched.  Practical application and skill development are key skills for the 21st century.  When it comes to the role of technology in our health and wellness, I came away with the notion that in many ways screen time, online bullying, and the stresses placed upon children due to technology are indeed affecting our youth.  Although there are many instances in which technology can provide health benefits, if we are truly considering all health aspects including mental health, it seems as though a balanced approach to tech use with youth is warranted.  Ian makes a great point about the resiliency of kids which i think is necessary to keep in mind.   In the fourth debate we tackled the question of openness and sharing in educational settings.  I am still of the opinion that we need to do right by our students and be cautious with how and why we share on social media.  However, some of the greatest lightbulb moments in my classroom have come from making connections with classrooms and individuals from around the world.  It has truly opened my students eyes to a different worldview.

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Tech for equity was another tough topic to tackle but due to my experiences overseas, I still had to come to the conclusion that although technology has made great strides for equity and that the bar continues to be raised, there is still much work to be done.  There are definitely many more marginalized voices being heard because of technology but at the same time, without equal access for all, it can hardly be equitable.  Social media is a huge reason why so many more people are interconnected.  However, it is also clearly playing a major role in the development of children in our society.  As previously mentioned, the sheer number of hours spent in front of screens on social media is staggering compared to even 5 years ago.  In my opinion, this is also an area teachers must approach with good modelling and a balanced strategy.  The appropriate use of social media for positivity must be a part of every classroom.  As Andy states in his summary, “with the right dosage and application, technology has the ability to enrich our lives, not harm them, but it must be used appropriately, responsibly, and we must be explicitly taught directions for use.”  If not, we will continue to see students who are depressed, overweight, stressed out, lacking sleep and unable to communicate face to face.

Lastly we discussed the corporatization of education and the role that companies now play in the future of our children.  Once again I was reminded that these types of decisions must always be made with students’ best interests in mind.  Education is a market that is ready to be tapped by many companies that would love a piece of the pie.  We need to ask ourselves, what’s the cost to our kids? and is it worth it?  I’m looking forward to discussing the overuse of technology and the necessity of unplugging from time to time as well.

In general I have come away with several key learnings from the course this term.  I’m calling these Luke’s Keys to Edtech Use.  Although they may seem simple, when applied to the issues discussed above, they have proven to be extremely good reminders when implemented in practice.  In essence, we will not be able to fight the future.  This is the way the world is headed.  What we can do is insure that students are first and foremost, that we are giving kids a balanced education, and that we are modelling what it means to live in a digital world.  Can we fight the future?  I certainly think we would be foolish to try.

Luke’s Keys to Edtech Issues

  1. Keep Kids First
  2. Take a Balanced Approach
  3. Model Model Model

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In the spirit of the debate format of the class, Steve and I decided to record a podcast in which we tackled and summarized some of the issues presented in this course. We expound upon these in the following podcast.  We also researched some helpful links in our show notes to further explore these topics.  Please enjoy the debut episode of “Steve’s Wrong vs. No I’m Not”

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?

 

What’s the Big Deal About Blogging?

 

I recently did some reading about blogging in educational settings both as a tool for students to access a greater audience but also as a tool for teachers to access knowledge and engage in reflective practice.  This is my first foray into the blogging world personally although my students and I use Kidblog frequently to journal, compose and respond critically to the written thoughts of others.  I have been relying on Twitter to expand my PLN and give me access to other educators for quick tips, short discussions and easy access to resources.  However, the 140 character limit on Twitter is somewhat challenging in the sense that it becomes difficult to engage in more in-depth reflection both personally and professionally.  I have found that Twitter in our classroom has been very effective as a microblog to showcase what students are doing in class.  Our Twitter feed goes up on our class website and parents can see pictures and student written summaries of what has happened in class that day.  It’s great practice for succinct writing and sharing the main idea!

When I first started using student blogs several years ago, I was quite wary of possible issues arising from allowing students free reign in their writing and commenting.  I was also unsure I wanted to allow students access to the openness of the web.  I had recurring nightmares about all manor of parent meetings involving issues with students posts and/or comments.  At was around this time that I participated in Alec Couros’ MOOC on Digital Citizenship.  The change in my thinking towards online tools for students was profound.  I had always considered blogs, Twitter and Wikis to be only useable in the classroom if severe restrictions were in place.  After taking part in the MOOC I began to realize that approaching technology in education in this way was instead severely limiting student growth.  I some extended time at the start of the following year to focus on digital citizenship with my students and to give them the tools necessary to operate safely in online spaces.  Since that time, students have become extremely careful editors and engaged thinkers in our online spaces.

I have definitely seen that through the use of blogs in the classroom, students have vastly improved their written work while at the same time fostering a sense of community beyond the walls of our class.  When they see comments from students in other schools or provinces, they become extremely excited and engaged in the writing process.  As stated by Michael Drennan, the existence of a more global audience immediately creates a sense of urgency with regard to the witting process.  Blogs also allow a journalistic perspective to be born in students or any other participant for that matter.  There is something incredibly powerful about the sharing of someone’s personal story.  Stories connect us in special ways and across race, religion, and even time.  Personal stories are pieces of who we are and where we’ve come from.  Mena Trott is one of the founding members of the blogging revolution and shares a poignant evaluation of the power of blog’s in this TedTalk.

 

In this connected world in which anyone can put almost anything online, it is easy to begin thinking that our voices are too small and that what we are saying doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference.  As educators, I believe we have a duty to participate in the world of PLN development through blogs, twitter and online forums.  In his blog post, Do Educators Really Need Blog Posts, Tom Whitby highlights several key points that outline the merits of the use of blogs by teachers.  Firstly, as Whitby states, blogs offer a sense of voice to teachers all over the world who can at once be contributors to, and participants in, meaningful conversations with regard to best pedagogical practice.  Therefore, we have moved beyond merely consumers of information.  Teachers can now meaningfully interact with content in an open forum.  We have instant access to the authors of this content and can readily add our voices to the conversation.  Starting in ECI 831 has given me the motivation to start expanding my own voice online in a more meaningful way.  To become not merely a consumer and disseminator of information but also a valuable contributor.

Whitby goes on to highlight the importance of blogs as a way to maintain relevance in an increasingly changing world in which information flows swiftly.  If we hope to continue connecting with students and teaching them how to navigate this raging river of online information without losing their footing or sacrificing ours, teachers must be willing to embrace these types of platforms.  The freedom to create, explore and respond to new ideas related to the teaching profession should be seen as both a privilege and an obligation.  A privilege because of the opportunities that exist for teachers and students alike. An obligation because this is the digital world in which our students are growing up. We owe it to the future.