Thursday, December 10, 2009

Project Reflection

The project I am designing will be in collaboration with my teaching colleague Martin Herrmann. Out "big picture" goal is to have the students communicate scientific ideas and processes clearly and concisely to a different group of students outside of the class where the science work is taking place.

The method of communication will be to use blogs to post ideas and findings, and then have other the other student group comment on these. We want students to experience first hand how important it is to be able to explain ideas and concepts clearly so that others can understand and then repeat(the scientific method).

Our students will realize immediately when they have not been clear; the reviewing students when seeking clarification will draw attention to any omissions or lack of detail.

In the same vein, our students will also have the chance to use deep thinking to examine and comment on a different groups science investigations, and critique the work of others.

A project sketch with further details can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Managing Classroom Peripherals

My latest obsession is my document camera. Last year I observed teachers using this tool and immediately saw what a powerful idea this was. It has taken this whole semester however, to start to integrate this technology into my lessons in an efficient manner.

My first few attempts were clumsy and unsure; I had trouble with all manner of details, and the kids probably saw the camera as an expensive paperweight. Now it has become an extension of my body, just like a smartboard. Perhaps more than myself taking the credit for this turn-around, I need to look at the nature of the new math curriculum I am teaching. As with all new initiatives, it as taken a while to figure out exactly how to implement this math via a different philosophy. Gone is the old days of teacher centered math with a lot of "drill and kill".

Connected Math is all about making connections, looking for patterns, explaining your thinking, and looking for multiple problem-solving strategies. In other words, it allows me to "wind up" students in the search of "prove to me/them/us that you are correct!". It gives opportunity for the kids to really talk with each other and debate (often passionately) their point of view.

In order for the energy of this process to remain high, it is crucial that kids are able to display the evidence of their thinking quickly and efficiently. Enter the document camera and smartboard dream duo. The students have the choice of using either the board or the camera to convey their thoughts; they come up to the front of the room, excited and ready to go, and then present their evidence using their preferred tool.

I take a back seat and watch the fireworks. To see kids arguing a point and using their own proofs to illustrate a point is enjoyable and informative. Students are going beyond just the math, and using many other skills like planning and public speaking. The key point for me is having the technology that is able to serve that immediate need: the need for the presenter to be able to show their work quickly and not slow down or disrupt the flow of the lesson.

The start of the year saw the kids very hesitant to approach and get behind the desk and teach the class; now, thanks to the use of relevant and effective technology, students are busting out of the seats to get up and confidently show everyone the nature of their thinking.

How Relevant are the NETs Today?

The answer to this question depends a lot on how you word the answer.

Totally relevant, when we believe in having a set of external standards that we are able to use as a yardstick to make any number of judgments.

Totally irrelevant, if by looking at these standards we see that by removing any reference to "digital" or "technological" , we are left with the kinds of standards that we as teachers are meeting or attempting to meet every day.

If teachers see standards (technological as well as "ordinary") as relevant and worth striving to meet, then it is imperative that they are supported in this desire by school administration. For standards to be met it will require teachers and administrators working in tandem to make this possible.

Becoming a "Visionary Leader" can involve taking risks, and by the same token teachers have to feel that they can try new technological approaches to reaching without a fear of "looking bad" in front of administrators (and colleagues!). Appropriate professional development is also a must; however that's not the end of the story. In schools with many initiatives, administrators need to show awareness of the amount of time required in becoming confident enough with technology to use it competently and efficiently.

Other important areas where administrators can make the standards relevant is in support of parent education. When teachers can dialogue with parents who are aware and well-informed of the issues surrounding the technology, the school amd their child, then meaningful and clear discussions can take place.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Laptop Management

There is a lot of information on this subject “out there” that is necessary for any school or individual to become familiar with before bringing laptops into the classroom. The end of this blog will include several very helpful with a wealth of practical tips.

From my own perspective, I tended to learn rapidly from the mistakes I made as I fumbled my way through attempting to use laptops with my students.

The things that worked for me were:

Initial set up:

* train a few kids in the specifics of collecting, transporting, and plugging in laptop carts

* assign students an actual numbered computer

* train the entire class to remove/replace computers correctly/safely

During Use:

*Insisting on student attention while you are instructing (screens down)

* Using existing technology (notebook recorder; jing) to produce video clips that are stored on the student server for easy access. Students can use these as a resource for going to particular websites.

If one staff member is not consistent with any one aspect (for example charging, sending, retuning the cart; ensuring each computer is plugged into the cart) then the whole system can break down. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This can lead to frustration, and then less likelihood of the laptops being used by that teacher again - resulting in the under utilization of a potentially powerful learning tool.

Laptop Management Links

Whose Job Is It???

The teaching of the NETS and AASL is the job of everyone in the school community; from classroom teachers to tech people to parents and administrators; and in an ideal meta-cognitive world, students will also assist with instructing and peer teaching their fellow students.

Posts from other course participants
talked about the importance of embedding standards in the courses we teach. One post drew the analogy of ESL learners needing to learn nglish within the context of each subject: this allows a more authentic learning experience, as students will encounter the concepts and at the same time seize the vocabulary that they need to know in order to express themselves. It doesn't make sense to try and separate these out, and in the same way it doesn't make sense to separate out technology standards from the subjects where technology skills are being utilized.

The new middle school math curriculum this year runs off the engine of the Connected Math Program. When I first started to teach this program I was amazed at the amount of "describing, explaining, clarifying and reflecting" that was required. My first question was "where's the math?" ESL learners were horrified; students who had always been "strong" math students were suddenly finding themselves confronting a poor grade in this subject. For some, math was the one curricular area that they could perform well in, without having to take on the extra hurdle of language.

Now, almost a semester in, I am seeing tremendous growth in many of these ESL learners as they take on the challenge of using language accurately to explain their math thinking. The language skills that they are picking up in math will also be transferred and carried over to all other areas of their academic life. In effect, math will be supporting humanities as well as other subjects (and vice versa).

By the same token, I think it is impossible to separate out the technology standards from the classes we teach. By embedding the standards into my day-to-day use of technology, I am making the learning more meaningful and more significant.

Ensuring Students Learn

As time goes by we become further and further surrounded by technology, schools will reflect wider society and be impacted in a similar way. There will be a continuum on where schools sit; some will push the boundaries, and others will lag behind due to other externally enforced limitations, for example budget constraints. However, I believe that over time, almost all schools will see some kind of move to integrate technology into the daily lives of their kids.

Whether this move to integration will actually result in improved student learning is another story. This will depend on the manner in which technology is implemented.

For us to be sure that kids are learning what they need to, we must ensure that teachers are teaching/using/implementing technology in the best way possible. This requires teachers to be able to engage in well-informed dialogue. This cannot happen until teachers actually know what they are talking about, and have had experiences with integrating technology first hand. This will require schools to take a long term and dedicated approach to teacher education.

Without a genuine desire by staff to go through the process of learning a number of new skills, then I believe that schools will be forever hoping that teachers just “pick it up” as they go along. With multiple, demanding commitments on any one day, the barrier for teachers to take on a new personal education piece will be too high.

Schools need to reduce the barriers that exist, so that teachers are more likely to “come onboard” and learn about the benefits of technology. I feel one of the biggest barriers is teacher’s lack of skills or knowledge (whether real or perceived). The “Fear Factor” can be a huge obstacle for teachers when they see technology as a demon they do not understand.

My own learning curve with technology has been greatly assisted by being part of a professional development course such as this COETAIL course. The assignments have been one way for me to push myself to learn new things; but often, it is the informal discussions that rise up out of a topic and then take on a life of their own that I find the most rewarding and enlightening. Hearing fellow teachers discuss and come up with solutions to problems that I am also grappling with has been of tremendous benefit.

The existence of the COETAIL course has been an example of a “reduced barrier” for me. It is at my school; I can go 2 minutes from my classroom; I can get instant support and feedback form both colleagues and tutors. I am able to spend time and effort in the class learning skills that I will ultimately (and often almost immediately) bring to my science and math classes.

Once teachers become more comfortable and knowledgeable about the use of technology in education, worthwhile dialogue can take place. This will allow such discussions such as “who teaches NETS and AASL standards to kids?” to take place.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Digital Storytelling

My attempt to come to grips with digital storytelling has not been a smooth journey. In the previous school year, myself and Martin Hermmann labored through a drawn out process using Movie Maker with a group of ESL kids. Our aim was to take a text heavy, yet important article from our Diversity of Life Science course, and break it into small chunks and have students take a sentence each and turn this into a piece of the story. Ultimately, we would stitch the story together and then the whole class could view the completed project, which would allow them to then tackle the article with greater ease.

The result was several hours of work resulting in a product that was average, at best. The time we lost, compared to if we had used a 1.0 traditional jigsaw approach, didn't seem worth the trade-off. So this year, Martin and I embarked on using PhotoStory 3 to carry out the same task. Martin did the hard yards; he spent time cutting the story into manageable chunks, then modeled the first third of the photostory in the style we wanted the kids to produce. Click here for a more detailed description of how Martin set things up.

My part in the process comes as our class of 26 kids was split, and I was to lead my group of 13 through the process of creating their piece of the puzzle. The first two lessons required the kids to find appropriate images from google or flickr that would support their story. Interestingly enough for me, I was at the same time attempting during the evenings to modify an old power point presentation, and Zen-ify it with the use of powerful images. Having spent hours searching for images myself, I was able to empathize accutely with the student's frustration mixed with excitement and creativity during this process.

By the end of the second lesson, most kids had found images that were appropriate enough. A few kids were still struggling, but the great thing about the situation was that kids who had completed their section were more than happy to peer teach their colleagues.

The next lesson was interesting. Martin had also prepared 4 screen casts for the kids, showing them how to produce their own photostory with images from their powerpoint presentation. His screen casts chunked the process, making it quick and easy to understand for all; I know this, because I watched these screen casts in my prep period before my students arrived to get myself "up to speed"!

A huge plus in using these screencasts were that students could easily come up to the smartboard at the front of the room, and replay the clip in order to clarify things; another way to do this would be to have the clips available on the student share folder, and the kids could access them without leaving their seat or laptop.The final step was to have the kids upload their completed section onto panthernet; that still left Martin the job of taking about two dozen clips and arranging them in the correct order for the final story to flow.

Of 26 kids, we managed to get 24 clips completed; the story was shown to kids among much excitement. It certainly seemed to give them greater access to the science concepts than wading through 4 pages of dense text.

The whole process we went through with the kids still raises important questions, questions we touched on during one of our face to face meetings. Is it possible/necessary/worthwhile for us as educators with an interest in technology, to ensure that our students are leaning certain skills at certain grade levels? For example, 3rd grade powerpoint, 4th grade blogging, 5th grade voice thread, 6th grade photostory, 7th grade Movie Maker etc.

Compared to last year, the effort was much reduced. Martin put a lot of time into the set up, and I was able to benefit from that. As a team, with regard to the next technological endeavor we take on, it will be my turn to 'get the ball rolling'.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Power Point Re Vamp

Here is a partially complete improved power point presentation


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Science Screencast

After exhilarating success with a foray into document camera techno-land, I was ready to attempt the long sought after mission of using notebook video capture software. My plan was to create a short clip that could be used to walk the kids through logging on to our FOSS Science website.

In the past, I used handout sheets of paper and also my smartboard where i would talk the class through the process. This was usually a dull and repetitive affair (for me as well as the kids!).

The 2.0 approach would hopefully make my life easier, as well as the process easier for the kids to follow along. It will certainly save on having to make, print, and store hard copies of the instructions.

The process itself was relatively painless. In quick time, with one or two trial runs, I was able to create a resource to be used next time our class logs onto FOSS.

I can see several potential pitfalls of this method, and the next time I use it I will be looking forward to see where those glitches are, and if I can iron them out in subsequent improved versions. Undoubtedly, the usual gamut of computer/kid issues will throw spanners into the works. I am sure I will have to address parts of my presentation (for example speed of delivery)in order to refine for it for the future.

Watch this space for the run-down on the result. video

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Final Project

My final project for this course was to utilize an area of technology I had yet to put to use. My document camera has been a wonderful piece of equipment that has been in operation from day one this year. However, the only way it had been incorporated into lessons was having kids show their working/thinking/reasoning, or having me use it to illustrate a technique (live) for completing a task.

We are teaching science this year through the FOSS science system, which is an inquiry-based approach with lots of hands-on activities for the kids. My hope was to be able to take advantage of the technology here and make short video clips to demonstrate the method for experimental set-ups.

There are tremendous advantages to this. Many lab practicals are full of steps and details and it can be a challenge to ensure that the students understand all the steps and end up with the correct set up. Teaching multiple classes means saying the same thing over and over - in the case of grade 7 and 8 science teachers at ISB they may repeat this 4 times in one day with different classes!

So I genuinely looked forward to being able to produce these short clips. In some previous efforts to embed technology into the classroom, I was stunned to see how much time was required to make use of this; for example, hours of work resulting in a clip of only a few minutes long. A few days ago, I decided I would see if it was possible to use the document camera and make a worthwhile clip relatively quickly.

With 45 minutes before my class was to arrive, the parameters were set: attempt to complete my goal, and embrace 2.0, or go back to "old school" teaching and have the kids listen to me drone on while I flutter several pieces of equipment past their noses.

I was staggered. Within ten minutes, I had made a short clip that was of a reasonable enough standard to be used immediately. I played it to the kids, and at the end of the 2 and half minutes I fired questions at the class to check for understanding. To my jaw-dropping amazement, the level of comprehension appeared near-perfect. The kids had got it. Totally. I was anticipating showing it again, or even reviewing the procedure verbally myself to reinforce, but it was unnecessary.

The next step was to watch the students as they went about their business. Everything proceeded smoothly.

In previous years, I would need to field a few questions from groups, and sometimes kids would still be completely confused as to what they were trying to achieve. I believe it was the power of the visuals giving the kids the whole picture, from start to finish so that they REALLY understood what they were doing; they were then able to use common sense to complete the task efficiently and effectively.
video

Saturday, October 10, 2009

COETAIL Courses Changing my Classes....

Five years ago my technological abilities consisted of hotmail: login. Successfully, as long as it was on a computer that I was familiar with; internet cafes while traveling often posed a tremendous puzzle.

The commencing of teaching at ISB catapulted me into the day-to-day use of technology on all fronts: Outlook, word documents, letters, spreadsheets and power points, culminating eventually in the use of Smartboard technology.

The continual use of the Smartboard had been my greatest technological achievement until I began this Coetail course in early 2009. Since then, I have been on yet another steep and interesting learning curve.

Setting up my first blog was an experience. Initially strange, I have since warmed to this method of communication, and this year one of my goals is to have student’s blog about their progress in math and science. I have already been in close contact with Ross Tague, my teaching partner who encourages our students to post reflections about their work in humanities. The ultimate goal will be for our students to have an electronic portfolio that is far more accessible, “organic” and exciting than the paper and cardboard one that sits in the corner of the room.

The use of the document camera has been another new tech piece I have picked up this year. My aim is to have kids come and present their ideas and strategies to the class, with the kind of regularity that allows them become comfortable doing so. This also fits in with the philosophy of our new math curriculum, which places emphasis on finding, using, and explaining strategies to solve problems.

Another new skill I am still refining is the use of creative commons, for example Flikr, as a resource to find images that I can use to improve presentations. An example of this can be seen on this blog.

Panthernet has been yet another tool that I have used this year for the very first time. My "baby steps" involved nothing more simple than posting a letter that was to be accessed by students, printed out, shown to parents, read and signed, and then returned to me. The next, ongoing steps have been to upload answers to already completed math homework questions. Students use this system to check and then correct; if any specific questions still remain, they are then to check with me the following day (or during homework club). This system allows us to be more efficient with valuable class time, while highlighting any concerns with specific questions/concepts.

In short, this course has provided me with a wealth of ideas with which to use to improve my teaching. The challenge will be to make the time to use as many of these ideas as possible, in order to then select the ones that will best suit my style and subject.

Video and Video Editing

Today my heading is spinning as usual after several hours of technology absorption. My usual feeling of bewilderment is somewhat enhanced by seeing the speed with which others seem to be able to use some of these applications. However, I am committed to keep on trying to twiddle, tweak, twist and tumble my way through a variety of these programs, to the ultimate goal of being able to use some them effectively in my classes.

The session yielded a bunch of treasures I knew little or nothing about, including movie maker, jing, and notebook recorder. In addition, I also learned how to use the document camera to make movie clips, something that has been on my list since I started using the camera at the start of the year.

The jing and notebook recorder I am eager to use for the purpose of showing students a flow of instructions that I often have to repeat. Examples where I could use this is when showing students how to log into a particular website for example, Connected Math or FOSS Science that requires quite a series of steps (as well as usernames and passwords).

One area that I am keen to use further is the use of the document camera to produce video showing certain science procedures (e.g preparing a slide). In the past I have use different methods to get this across; the old school “gather round and watch this", and more recently, using YouTube or other media to show the students the process. I would much prefer to show the students the procedure while I narrating the procedure. I can now do this by recording the steps with the camera, and having this clip on my PC desktop for instant access.

Watch this space for the upcoming “How to Make a Slide”.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

JS Open House 2009

This is my original power point presentation:
Watch this space for the updated version!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Visual Imagery Supporting Curricular Content: Connecting, Cycling, Collaborating

The start of the year has seen significant changes at school. A new math curriculum, in addition to a new team has resulted in even more time spent meeting to plan and organize our new math course. Consequently, time has been a precious commodity; fortunately in the spirit of collaboration I have benefited from brainstorming sessions with math and COETAIL colleague Martin Hermann.

Our new math curriculum is more student centered and problem-solving based. It requires students to not just memorize an algorithm, but to genuinely understand the math concepts involved, and to be ultimately able to explain, and reflect upon, their thinking.

With this in mind, it is important that the problems we choose to illustrate concepts are ones that the students take note of and remember, as we will use these problems as "anchors" to refer back to later on, when we are connecting concepts.

Martin Hermann's recent blog, Ferris Wheels & Multiples: Monday's Math Lesson Intro provided students with an important visual "hook" as an introduction to dealing with common multiples. As we both team-teach a group of ESL learners, his video clip of Ferris Wheels allows his students to come to an immediate awareness of the situation described in the textbook problem.

The very next problem posed in the math text concerns the life cycles of cicadas. To allow ESL students to comprehend the type of organism we are dealing with, and why it might be important to be able to predict when the cicadas hatch, I initially thought that a aural connection may prove powerful. However, after talking with Martin Hermann and seeing the way he used bliptv, I decided to utilize the power of the visual imagery which also has the associated aural component.

This has the effect of making the problem instantly relevant to the students, as they will see (and hear) exactly what a cicada is. The visual imagery, in tandem with the distinctive noise of the creatures, will allow the students to identify the organism itself. This recognition will allow the teacher to inform students that these cicadas can (and do) make problems for farmers.

Leading on from this, the fact that different species of cicadas have different life cycles (13 years and 17 years) can be explained. Why it would be beneficial for us to be able to determine when their life cycles coincide is a great question to launch the idea of common multiples. This further reinforces the previous section (Martin's Ferris Wheels), which was also concerned with cycles (of rotating objects).

Visual imagery can be used here as a powerful tool to create recognition, understanding, and interest in students, as well as providing a great anchor on which to attach new concepts.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mass Collaboration

This concept is where large numbers of individuals work independently, but combine their collective knowledge in order to produce a project. The power of the internet has allowed this to become an idea that many of us are familiar with, for example Wikipedia.

Mass collaboration can be researched further here, where the article refers to these 4 important points
  • being open
  • peering
  • sharing
  • acting globally
In fact, with a world first, the New Zealand Government in late 2007 gave the public the opportunity to directly contribute to law making, by launching an online wiki where people could make suggestions to the wording of a new police act.

This form of collaboration certainly covers the four points mentioned above. It is open, as anyone with access to a computer can contribute. Peering means that any contributers who write "nonsense" will be sorted out and discarded by the self-policing nature of a wiki. Sharing means that certain products (in this case the product would be the new act) can be brought to the market more quickly, because the open and peering nature of the process allow information to flow more freely, with less restrictions. As for acting globally, in this case it is certainly acting country-wide.

This type of collaboration may be new with respect to writing laws, but other examples exist in recent history. They include other important issues such as the human genome sequencing project.

In fact, with regard to writing laws, there exists the potential to have an entire government designed mass-collaboratively. This is a theoretical from of governement, but, as the New Zealand example shows, in the near future we may be set to see profound changes that will change the way we do everything; from mixing music and maintaining health to determining government policy.

The Power of the Web

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." This quote from Tim Berners-Lee, one of the inventors of the World Wide Web. The power lies in the fact that the web allows all of us to provide and receive information, and to interact with others via this medium.

Day to day use of the web finds many of us providing information (social networking, blogs, twitters), not to mentions the millions of businesses that provide information to customers about their products or services. Looking for information can be seen via the ubiquitous use of such products such as the many Google applications (earth, reader, scholar) to refine and narrow the search for sought-after information.

Information is the new currency that oils this system. As a consumer, the power of this information has altered the traditional "informational assymmetry" that previously existed between customers/clients and service/product suppliers.

Once, people in need of decision-determining information had to rely on others with specialized knowledge to provide that information. These providers of that information could use the fact that the consumer was not privy to the same set of facts and trends, and could use that inside knowledge to advantage when encouraging a sale or closing a deal.

It would have been very difficult for the consumer to address this imbalance; it would require time and energy to gain enough of this "informational currency" to be able to make an informed decision completely independent of the actual "expert".

Now, the web has allowed all of us the potential to become experts. We can access stock information, medical literature, house prices, school reviews, hardware specifications, our children's grades; all at the click of a mouse. This revolutionary change has made it possible for us to take a more active and critical role in our own lives. The power of the web has in turn given each of us more power and greater guardianship over ourselves....what could be more powerful than that?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cyber-bullying

Cyber-bullying is, alongside the technology that has spawned it, a relatively new phenomenon. Bullying of any type is harmful and anti-social, and can result in negative outcomes for both the victim as well as the perpetrator - What Are the Effects of Bullying? There are major differences between cyber-bullying and a “traditional” style of bullying:

Previously, the plight of the victim would often only be observed by the bully or a small group of bystanders. Once you were away from the attacker(s), then there would be some sense of relief as you were out of the immediate physical vicinity of the perpetrator. Leaving the playground and heading home would offer some respite from the actions of a bully.

However, technology has allowed greater scope and more chance for attack. Phone text messages, digital photographs, hate-sites, blog posts and any other types of digital media can be manipulated at any time; in effect it is possible to be a target 24 hours a day. Just going offline has no real effect, as the internet can be used to post images or words immediately, to a worldwide audience. This information is considerably more difficult to erase than words graffiti-ed onto a desk or wall.

The impact of this on young people can be severe and long lasting. It is for these reasons that cyber-bullying should be taken very seriously by educators. We need to ensure that our students are taught about this, from the time they start to actively and routinely integrate technology into their everyday life. Many students may be actually unsure of what constitutes cyber bullying; to some it may be just a “bit of fun”. We need to make sure that if a student ever finds themselves being targeted, that they understand what they should do to deal with the issue. There are a number of steps that can be taken, to Prevent cyberbullying. This may include the importance of keeping a record of any text or message, which would allow the identity of the bully to be determined, and action to be taken. There are also helpful internet resources that can be shown to students.



As teachers we can work together to prevent this type of abuse from becoming a part of the school culture. In the past, bullies could often continue to terrorize others, because to confront them would have meant “catching them in the act”. With technology, it is possible to track comments or texts to their source. It is our job to ensure that our students know this, and know it from early on. The key will be to integrate this important topic successfully into an already packed academic, cultural, sporting and social calendar.

Our Middle School AUP regarding cyber-bullying reads as follows:

"Cyber-bullying is not tolerated at ISB. ISB becomes involved when student’s online activities impact at-school life and community. In other words, if the actions of students outside of school have an effect on students feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school, then ISB administration will act and remedy this. Additionally, if members of ISB staff or its community are targeted, then the school administration will get involved."

This means that if online activities away from school, on personal computers, negatively impact members of the ISB community, then action can be taken by ISB. While this may be some kind of deterrent, I believe that it is important for the school to also take a pro-active approach by educating all students about cyber-bullying.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Copyright Capers

Modern humans evolved from small bands of hunter gatherers over thousands of years to become the keyboard pounding guardians of our collective global destiny. Various mental structures allowed us make that journey; the ability to think, to speak, to listen, to remember, to solve problems, and to see things from different points of view.

Tool making, agriculture, and the rise of civilizations all helped propel us to our current state. Guiding many of these achievements has been the human ability to create. Creativity has given rise to the wonderful things we see and experience around us everyday. The process of creation often occurs because human minds are able to observe, analyze, modify and ultimately improve things that are already in existence around them (made from nature, or by other people).

Concepts may be taken and improved upon to produce another entity, that may now be used in a more efficient, or even an entirely novel way. We are surrounded by the legacy of this "standing on the shoulders of giants" which has aided our world in developing into what it is today. It has always been a human trait to seek to make things anew, and this is also occurring nowadays against the backdrop of the digital revolution. In order to understand how that affects us as creators and users, we need to attempt to understand concepts like copyright and creative commons.

Copyright has historically provided one of two options; a work is either accessible to anyone because it is in the public domain, or else it’s creator has requested “all rights reserved”, which effectively means no one else can distribute, perform, or create derivative works of the original.

Creative Commons gives structure to the grey area between copyright and public domain. It allows a creator to keep their copyright but allow others to copy and distribute the work on the condition that they give credit. The creator of the work may decide on which "level" they are comfortable sharing on; for example, options include allowing commercial use of your work (yes or no), and modification of your work (yes; yes - as long as it is shared; no).

Creative commons allows the sharing of work by bypassing traditional, restrictive methods used by large powerful groups to restrict the use of this work. If I license my work with creative commons then I am allowing the use of my work by others who will then be able to transform it into something entirely new.

The use of creative commons sees a shift from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved", and with this I see another parallel with the natural world. Natural selection in evolution allows those genes (representing their particular organisms) to live on if they provide some kind of advantage with regard to survival; human ideas (representing our creativity) should also be allowed to flourish, and provide benefits (cultural as well as survival) to our species.

Footsteps in the Concrete

Well before the age of the internet people had to take measures to ensure their privacy, whether it was closing curtains, talking discreetly, or being cautious when it came to providing personal details to others.

Now, the internet provides a completely different way for us to unwittingly expose our private lives to anyone who is curious enough to look.

A quick Google search of my own name suddenly realized a slew of entries, each providing possible insights into how I may be living my life. Surprisingly I found an entry for a paper I published at university 14 years ago in the Australian Journal of Chemistry! It was unnerving to think that something that occurred long ago has cast a digital shadow across my immediate present.

Fortunately, an entry like this is one that would be perceived in a positive light. It brought home to me how aware we must all be, of how our digital footprint can extend beyond us and this moment of “now”, and on into infinity.

The idea of future employers viewing our digital life and making hiring decisions based on this is a strange concept. Earlier in the year, Mr. Bates spoke to the middle school about the dangers of this, in particular regard to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. In all my years of attending assemblies, it was perhaps the quietest and attentive I had ever heard a group of kids be. I could sense their mental gears processing all the times they had posted/commented/tagged on the internet. It was as if this was the first time they had considered this possibility; this is not surprising, if we as educators are yet to embed this as a concept into our day-to-day teaching of technological literacy.

The good news is that there appears to be ways to deal with having an unsavory digital footprint. Requesting people to take down unflattering photos and employing outside agencies to sanitize your trail can be some approaches to take. Another, more self-driven and proactive option may be to make the decision to ensure that your footsteps leave behind a legacy of material that sculpts you in a positive light.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chatological Ettiquette

Last f2f session I had my first exposure to the chat system, and I initially found the whole concept rather strange; a group of people, listening to a Silvia Tolisano, a well-known IT person, while simultaneously and furiously communicating to others in the group via our keyboards and onto the chat page......

Those others in the group included peers in the same room/same table, bed-ridden, hospital-bound peers, and our very own course instructors.......

Through it all, Silvia encouraged us to do what we were doing anyway. I was confused, at the start, what were we supposed to do? Was I to listen to Silvia, or thumb away at my keyboard? Others seemed equally unsure, many were commenting on finding it difficult to focus and follow on two difference sources of information at the same time.

The chat-ologue unfolded line-by-line in front of me, and try as I could to listen to Silvia, I was mesmerized by the unraveling streams of thought that spilled onto my page.....as I read each line, a new one would appear, asynchronously responding to a previous entry. Course members had many of the same thoughts ("this is distracting!"), and I wondered several times how this could ever be used effectively with a group of 6th graders.

But reflecting after the session, a couple of things went through my mind. How was using a chat system like this any different to other f2fsessions we have experienced where group members would have their laptop open with multiple windows open and tasks going on? Is that not just as distracting, as following live strands of thoughts? Don't both require some form of discipline, in terms of knowing when to sit back and disengage, collect thoughts, and then make sense of stuff?

My next thoughts went to how I could use this in grade 6 math/science. I understand that this kind of set-up is second nature to a lot of kids, and that they often spend time chatting in this format. I can see how this may certainly be a big advantage to kids who find speaking up in class very difficult. With this, they can find a voice and have time to compose their thoughts and make comments without the fear of "looking stupid".

The added incentive for kids to post thoughtful comments is that the entire chat-ologue can be looked at later, and further reflections can be drawn from the whole process. I believe that certain key questions (for example "is fire alive?") could elicit some wonderful thoughts and sharing of ideas, happening in real time, evolving and morphing as each new entry impacts upon the thinking of members in the group.

The best way for me to discover more about this process, will be to develop questions/ideas with plenty of power/inherent interest, introduce these to my students, combine them with this chat methodology and see what happens! Watch this space for results.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Final Reflection

This project has been a great chance to put into practice some of the methods that I have been exposed to during this course. As a learner who enjoys collaborating with others, this project was a joint effort between Martin Hermann and myself.

Our goal was to make a project that would allow our kids to have some important experiences. Their task would be to take a key reading that covered several important science standards, and then in small groups or pairs take sections of this reading and prepare a short movie clip. The clips would then be combined, to make a movie to be shown to the whole class (and ultimately the world!).

Martin and I wanted our students to have certain experiences during this project. We wanted them to be able to work together in a small groups, sharing ideas and using the vocabulary that many ESL learners struggle with.

We then wanted students to take on the technology piece by using an online video editor where segments could be uploaded and then stitched together into a whole class movie.

The final part would be the posting of their completed, collaborative end product into the world by using a platform such as YouTube. With this they could encounter the feeling of seeing their work "out there" and to be able to receive feedback from a much wider community, thereby reinforcing the idea of connectivity.

While Martin and I planned the project, our own experiences were mirroring the kinds of experiences we were hoping our students would have. Martin and I worked collaboratively, bouncing ideas around and sorting through all the steps we would need to achieve our goal. We had to come to grips with new terms and language.

Earlier, after posting our own project sketches, we had received timely feedback from an expert in Technology Projects. Having this feedback really brought home to me that once I had posted my work, it was definitely "out there" for all to see. Receiving feedback from someone completely unknown personally to me, was certainly a new experience.

Martin and I also embraced a new technology piece during planning. We needed to rewrite the text document (to make it more accessible to our ESL kids) and started to do so with one computer and two people. Realizing we could be more efficient, we split the text document, added another laptop and then used google docs to work at the same time. We could both see what the other was doing in real time, on the screen in front of us. Now we can also separately revisit the text for editing without he hassle of emailing updates and revised versions.


I hope that our students will get the same kind of enjoyment in doing this task, that i got while collaboratively designing it. Given the parallels between what we experienced while developing the project, and what we hope our kids will ultimately get out of its completion, it will be fascinating to observe their progress. Progress not just in terms of a deeper understanding of science, but also in the realization of the importance and power of technology and collaboration.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Project Sketch



The project sketch for my project is a leap into the unknown for me. In collaboration with my EAP teaching partner (Mr Martin Hermann), I am about to try and develop a project that will allow my students to pursue their learning in a style that is different to what I have promoted previously as a classroom teacher.

The students will be challenged to start to understand some of the basics of cell biology. This will be done however by meeting not just the prescribed science standards, but also the NETS (National Educational Technology Standards)

http://www.iste.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=NETS

from the International Society for Technology Education.

In a nut shell, the students will meet the science standards but within a framework that allows them to "Communicate and Collaborate" (NETS- for Students #2) using digital media.

The big picture is that students will work ( individually or in pairs) to prepare and present a digital "patch" of a larger concept. They will use digital media to add this "patch"to a class "quilt" that will then be shown to the whole class as the lesson.

The students will be working cooperatively (in real time) initially, but also at a distance (when not in class - for example at home) as they combine their pieces to put together. They will be able to make use of each other as resources, and also the teachers (or internet/books) as "experts" if and when needed.

As a result of this process, they are taking responsibility for the learning of not just themselves, but also all other members of the class. In addition, the finished product will be able to be posted on platforms such as YouTube, to allow students from around the world to make use of this resource.

The true test will be to see if this method can meet the science standards within a similar time-frame, and to the same degree of effectiveness, to that used by a more traditional approach. Reflections from both Mr Hermann and myself, as well as the students, will be necessary to determine the cost-benefit of this style of pedagogy.