23 Things – Week 2

I’ve managed to convince 4 of our teachers to sign up for the 23 Things Online Workshop. (I’m not actually participating, I’m acting solely as a coach.)  I’ve also managed to convince them to meet once a week after school at a local cafe to discuss what we’re exploring each week. The first week didn’t go wrong but didn’t go terribly well. There was a lot of discussion but without much direction.

One of my big gripes about meetings at school is that they don’t seem to utilize time wisely. I did not want that to be the same with our PLC meetings as well! I decided to adopt the Final Word protocol as a result of reading Kim Cofino’s blog post about it. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for: a way to help facilitate a conversation based upon the interests of the participants while remaining conscious of time factors (we’ve allocated one hour every Tuesday).

While our implementation of the protocol wasn’t perfect (we didn’t always stick to time if the conversation was good and we didn’t always remain focused on the leader’s passage), it certainly felt like a more productive dialogue and a better use of our time. I hope that as we use the protocol more we will be able to strike up richer conversations.

And for the record, Prensky’s Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants theory (Pt 1 Pt 2) was the hottest topic. I’ve made my feelings known on that matter already.

Image Credit: barbara kingsolver and coffee at pix by cafemama licensed under CC BY NC SA

Thing 11: Flickr and CC

Please excuse the brevity (and funny punctuation) of the next few blog posts. Being in Europe has its drawbacks: expensive internet cafes and funny keyboards.

I thought I”d include a picture of where I”m currently internet-ing. My family and I are on our big European holiday and we”re currently camping about 800 meters from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Flickr could be used in all sorts of ways in the classroom. A quick example: on day 1 of a new school year, have the students search Flickr to find photos that represent their summer holiday. It could be literal, such as my photo above, or it could be more symbolic.

Photo: Contrails and the Pisa Tower by ccgd

Thing 10: Copyright, Copywrong and Creative Commons

Please excuse the brevity (and funny punctuation) of the next few blog posts. Being in Europe has its drawbacks: expensive internet cafes and funny keyboards.

Teachers have always gotten around traditional copyright law, whether they knew it or not, by the “Fair Use” standards in place for education. While this serves us well, it will not always serve our students. Nor does traditional copyright laws take into account the instantaneous nature of sharing and remixing information.

Enter Creative Commons.

CC licensing is necessary in today”s world. It can, I think, be thought of as a community. I”ll use your images, music, etc. and you can use mine. There is nobody policing anything. It”s up to the individual users to ensure that they are abiding by the terms of the license that has been placed on the work by the creator.

I kind of like that idea when it comes to students: empowering people to ensure that they are using other people”s work responsibly.

Thing 8 – Wikis Wikis Everywhere

For a math teacher, wikis and blogs are hard. There is no intuitive method for students (or teachers) to input proper mathematical symbols and equations without a learning LaTex or importing a whole bunch of graphics.

The power of the wiki comes from its collaborative opportunities – the ability for students to create a shared knowledge. In this paradigm, the teacher takes on the role of caretaker or shepherd, keeping her students on task and headed in the general direction of their goal. Like any large herd, there will be ramblings, amblings and detours, but these can be seen as necessary ‘distractions’ in order to give the students ownership.

Welker’s Wikinomics is a good example of this. Jason Welker uses his wiki as a content delivery platform, allowing students total access to the course material. The collaboration, however, comes mostly through the discussion forums, where students are constantly asking questions (perhaps prompted in class?) and their peers are constantly replying. It is through this exchange that understanding is created.

Economics is an example of a course where the concepts remain constant but the examples are ever-changing and ubiquitous. Mathematics is a bit different. Yes, the concepts are constant, but unlike econ there are not always new examples of that concept showing up in the news. (Perhaps this is a comment on me, but I think I’ve been using the same few examples of parabolas the last 10 years!) It is difficult to have engaging discussions about topics that have been answered ad infinitum the past 10 years. The focus of the math wiki must be different. The Small Stones wiki uses a collaborative note-taking approach (called scribe posts) championed by Darren Kuropatwa. Students are responsible, on rotation, for updating the wiki with the class notes. Other students can then add details or correct mistakes that they find. In the end, it is a peer-reviewed textbook. Unlike the economics wiki, this won’t work in perpetuity. The next round of students needs to start from scratch and build their own understanding from the ground up.

My main concern with the Small Stones wiki is that it is static. It reminds me of reading a notebook, albeit in electronic form. I started a wiki with my grade 10 and 11 students this year. The initial idea was that the students would create screencast movies (using their TabletPCs, OneNote, and Cam Studio) of themselves solving problems in every unit. By the end of the course there would be a dynamic record of how to solve problems of various type. It would also give me a chance to ‘watch’ them solve problems and to identify misconceptions.

As you can tell from the tone of the previous paragraph, things didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined. I had a hard time getting the buy-in from students that this was a useful idea. I like to think that my school is pretty progressive, but the teaching methodologies tend to be quite mainstream at this point. I do hope that my new position will help change that, however.

image: Shepherd by ingirogiro
image: Come in uno specchio 1 by Hedrok

Thing 7a – The Power of TED

I love the TED videos.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

I subscribe to them in iTunes (opens in iTunes), update whenever I sync my iPod and usually watch them in the taxi to work or while taking my mind off the drudgery of the gym. There are so many times I have an “A-ha!” moment, thinking about how this amazing new thing relates to my curriculum. Then, more often than not, I forget about it until it’s too late.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who does this. There are quite a few TED resources out there. More importantly, there is Larry Ferlazzo, who has put together The Best Teacher Resources for TED.

Some of the most useful blog posts I’ve found are merely launching points to related posts. It highlights the collective consciousness of Web 2.0. My Personal Learning Network reads for me, vetting “The Best of the Web” that coincides with my interests. (Of course, there is always the hated “echo chamber” effect that one needs to be careful of.)

Thing 5 – The Big Picture

This post continues my reflection for my work on the K12 Learning 2.0 workshop. This post is a reflective post about an item of interest in my feed reader.

I know this course is about education – and the edublogosphere – but one of the greatest things about RSS is it allows me to get up-to-date news and current events. One of the best resources I’ve found, both for my own personal interest and for use in the classroom, is the The Big Picture.

Alan Taylor canvasses the wires to find pictures of interest. His most recent entry commemorates the 20th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

The whole blog screams “visual literacy” and I have seen entries related to math, science, history, geography and probably every other subject imaginable.

Check it out!

Thing 4 – Immigrants and Natives are Obsolete

Files by T a k.Marc Prensky is undeniably more qualified and better versed than me when it comes to educational pedagogy. I respect that his work on Digital Immigrants v. Digital Natives (pdf) was groundbreaking. But that was published in 2001 – a veritable lifetime ago – and it is now, in my opinion, obsolete. Although using labels that can be construed as racist and/or xenophobic, its basic premise – that one segment of the population is inherently more comfortable with technology – is still true, but how that segment is parsed out of the whole isn’t quite as binary as Prensky describes.

Chris over at Betchablog does a great job of unraveling The Myth of the Digital Native:

The Natives vs Immigrants concept serves as a neat, tidy metaphor that is useful on a basic level to help understand some of the differences between Gen-Y and those who grew up in the primitive pre-Google world.  However, the problem with the metaphor is that while it’s neat and tidy, it is demonstrably wrong on so many levels.

Digital fluency and acquisition can be compared to language fluency and acquisition. You might recall the differences between BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitivie Academic Language Proficiency) put forth by Jim Cummins: BICS are the day-to-day language skills one needs to get by in social situations; CALP refers to the language skills necessary to succeed in an academic setting.

You see where I’m going here, right?

Prensky’s Digital Natives have the digital equivalent of BICS: they can text, chat, FaceBook, MySpace, and Google (simultaneously, most of the time!). Not every Native, though, posseses the analagous CALP. Can they search effectively? Do they know how to organize and search the massive amount of content they are accessing or creating? Do they collaborate effectively for learning purposes? The list of questions goes on.

In life, things are rarely ever black and white. There are infinite shades of grey that almost defy description. Digital fluency is no different. While I recognize how tempting it is offer categories in order to simplify the discussion, it is these categories that are sometimes the issue. With this concept of Digital Native, it is too easy for teachers to assume that all students of capable of anything technological and to not teach them the more academic skills. Even worse, it is too easy for teachers to assume that, because they are Digital Immigrants, they are not able to teach anything to their Native students.

We need a new nomenclature, one that helps to differentiate between BITS (Basic Interpersonal Technological Skills) and CATP (Cognitive Academic Technological Proficiency), one that promotes the idea that transiency between the categories is possible, and one that is not binary by nature. At first blush, I like the categories Digital Tourist, Digital Resident, and Digital Citizen but I know they are nowhere near sufficient. What categories would you suggest? (While were at it, can we improve upon the acronym CATP?)

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Thing 2 – What is Web 2.0 and (Why) Does it Matter?

idn_web_rots by Rodrigo Vera.I have a confession to make: When looking over the 23 Things, there are only a handful of things that I don’t already feel like I have some sort of comfort with. I blog, I tweet, I wiki, I have a Personal Learning Network that I am continuously cultivating to suit my needs and interests. And I have firsthand experience as to how the collaborative nature of the read/write web has changed me as a teacher.

As an L^3 (LifeLong Learner; I’m a math teacher, give me a break!), I harness the power of Web 2.0 on an hourly basis. If I have blog questions, I tweet an Edublogs guru. If want to talk politics or pedagogy or sports or the joys of international living, I connect with intrepidteacher or MsMichetti. And I’m constantly reading the thoughts and blogs of some of the most influential 21st C. educationalists around. To say that I learn more from the people in my computer than the people in my building would be a gross understatement.

As a teacher, wikis allow me to encourage collaboration and independence between my students. Creative Commons licensed photos allow my students to ethically find images to support their work. YouTube gives me a library of media that can be used for business or pleasure.

Web 2.0 is just awesome (boom de ya da, boom de ya da!).


 

image: idn_web_rots by Rodrigo Vera

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Thing 1 – Reflections on Lifelong Learning

Part of my school’s mission statement says, “Our mission is to encourage students to be independent, lifelong learners who strive for excellence”. With the proliferation of connectivity in general and Web 2.0 in particular, lifelong learning is more accessible and more relevant than ever.

Thing 1 is all about the 7.5 Habits of Effective Lifelong Learners.

One of these Habits is going to be easiest for me to get into: Play! My view towards most new things has always involved play. I’m a guy, and Real Guys don’t read directions! How do we learn? We play. When I sit in a new car, the first thing I do is push all the buttons to see what they do. When I get a new gizmo, I go through all the functions/buttons/menus just to see what’s “under the hood”. The same goes for a new Web 2.0 tool: I won’t know how to use it in my classroom or how to suggest that others can use it until I put it through it’s paces and find its strengths or limitations by just pushing all the buttons and seeing what they do!

Perhaps the most important habit will be to create and document my own learning toolbox. In my new role next year as Technology Facilitator, I will be responsible for helping all teachers in the Middle School/High School to create technology enriched learning experiences that leverage our 1:1 TabletPC program. I think that the tools that are highlighted here will be invaluable to that end.

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23 Things Workshop

We interrupt your regular scheduled programming to bring you this special event.

Over the next 8 – 10 weeks, I will be participating in the K12 Learning 2.0 workshop and using this blog as my reflection space. To most of my hundreds tens one or two readers, this may not be very interesting. For that, I apologize in advance. But if you do find it interesting, by all means let me know. Your comments and insight can only help further my understanding!

Image: hdtv svt2 by kalleboo

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