Engaging the Parent Community

Last week, I stole borrowed a page from my friends and colleagues at UWCSEA East and had students run a session with parents on social networking and other concerns. As I wrote in the school newsletter:

Thao , Tommy and Max did a fantastic job of presenting a student perspective and discussing their own personal use of social networks and other aspects of technology use, both in school and at home. It was great to hear them address the concerns raised by parents as well as share their experiences. According to one of the students, “It was helpful to listen to the questions from parents, and it helped me understand what kind of concerns parents have about the integration of technology into a student’s life.” Another added: “It was good for the students to see the point of view of the parent, so they would understand what the parent is seeing. It good to tell the parent about what we as student are doing on our tablet.”

The parents were also appreciative of the chance to speak to young adults and about the challenges and opportunities that are faced in an increasingly digital environment from their different perspectives. There was also a great roundtable discussion among the parents once the students had returned to class about some of the questions and concerns they have as parents.

One of the big discussion points that came from the parent roundtable (and actually, it has been brought up before) was the need for an online community for parents (primarily) to discuss some of the issues, questions and concerns that go hand-in-hand with the implementation of emerging technologies for learning.

I learned at ASB Unplugged 2010 that they are using a Ning for their parents. If I remember correctly, it is now completely moderated by parent volunteers and members of their PTA.

I’m wondering if any schools have successfully implemented BuddyPress as a community forum? As we are looking to finally start with edublogs, I wonder if this is a path that we can take? I’ve done some initial poking around, but I can’t solve the privacy issue: How do I make a BuddyPress installation so that parents can register themselves (moderated by an admin from the school) and so that the forums, groups and postings are private?

I’m also wondering if BuddyPress is even the way to go? Are there alternatives out there that you would suggest from experience?

How is your school engaging your parent community in discussion? Are you using social networking to improve parent communication and interaction? How concerned are you and your parents with the privacy of that social network? 

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Image Credit: Grade 8 Student by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA

“Is my way the right way?”

I’ve been having a lot of conversations at school regarding acceptable/responsible use of technology, particularly with respect to gaming and middle school boys. I’m hoping we’re in the process of convening some sort of forum for all stakeholders to come together and review/discuss our RUP and how it pertains to students, parents and teachers alike. (If it all comes together as planned I’m sure I’ll write about it in more detail.)

One of the points I was making to our middle school counselor was the idea that gaming, for a lot of students, is now a social activity. Many parents and teachers – not just at my school – are up in arms that students are playing computer games instead of socializing “like normal kids”. But for these kids, computer games are normal and they are social.

I came across this excerpt from the book Losing Control, Finding Serenity by Daniel A. Miller on BoingBoing:

Genetics aside, our children are not nearly as much like us as we think. Yes, they look and act like us in varying ways, but they are very different from us. This point was powerfully driven home to me when I pressured my daughter Lana (then ten years old) to prepare for an important test. I wanted her to do it the way I had done it in school (making study notes, outlining the material, etc.), not by listening to loud rock music. She promptly responded: “Daddy, I’m different than you. I can’t do it that way. Listening to music helps me study better.”

I was immediately taken aback by the simple truth of what she said. Lana really is different than me, and vastly so. She studies for tests and does her homework differently than I did. She budgets her time differently than I did. She keeps her room and desk much differently than I did. She also has many different interests and talents than I had. After all, who am I to say that my way is the best way — for her? My way is just a way, nothing more. It worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it works for my child.

If we’ve only experienced our own childhood, how we do we make sense of a childhood experience that is set in completely different circumstances? How do we as teachers help parents realize the value in losing some of that control? How can this apply to parent education regarding the use of technology by students in and out of the classroom today?

If We Build It, Who Will Come? – An Online Algebra 1 “Textbook”

I just finished Karl Fisch’s post about approaching homework differently. It is a much more detailed and cogent explanation to what I was saying here.

My plan is to deliver the traditional lecture portion of an Algebra class as the homework, thus freeing up class time to explore the mathematics and pursue some interesting problems, as well as provide time for guided practice and collaborative work.

Since Algebra is very much skill based, my hope is to provide short (less than 10 minutes), targeted instructional videos that students can watch (and rewatch if necessary) that focus solely on the skills, one skill at a time. Now I want to be clear that these videos typically will come after inquiry and exploration in class.

As I said in the comment of Karl’s post, I think this is a brilliant idea. I can’t think of one downside to this plan, other than it will challenge people’s existing beliefs of what education looks like. (That by itself is not a bad thing; the fallout of that challenge might cause some headaches though.)

Watching Karl’s ‘Proof of Concept‘ video, it’s pretty obvious that this is going to be a time-consuming effort. As is mentioned, there are tons of online resources already but they tend to have been created by individuals for their own use. I could use them in my classroom but they aren’t always at the right level or don’t always have enough practice or aren’t the right length.

So here’s my question: Is it possible for us, as  a community, to create an online open-source Algebra 1 skills-based video textbook? What would we need to do so? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • We would need to come up with an agreed-upon structure for each video. (I like Karl’s Five Part Plan: Learning Goal, Explanation/Examples, Guided Practice, Self-Check, and Closing.)
  • We would need to come up with a generic list of skills that are applicable to all, regardless of state or national standards.
  • We would need people to volunteer to create a video for each skill on our list. If two or three people create a video for the same skill, that’s not a bad thing: more choice for our students.
  • We would need to come up with a structure for displaying or publishing our textbook. I’m thinking create a YouTube channel and use a wiki as some sort of Table of Contents.

Can we work together to share the time-consuming aspects of this idea so that we all spend more time focused on the ‘heavy lifting’ aspect: supporting our students effectively with our time?

Anybody interested in trying?

Image: ‘soccer practice

What If We Replace ‘Business’ with ‘Education’?

Daniel Pink on incentives and performance:

Some highlights:

As long as the task required only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.

But once the tasked called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.

To provide intrinsic motivation, you need to provide:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what [education] does. Those 20th century rewards, those motivators that we think are a natural part of [education], do work but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

Transformative Tools in Education

By Pieter Mustard, licensed under CC BY NC ND
By Pieter Mustard, licensed under CC BY NC ND

“It’s not about the technology.”

This is the popular refrain that we hear constantly in the blogosphere and at conferences devoted to technology and education. And I agree: the purchase/use/integration of technology, in and of itself, does not imply learning any more than the purchase of books implies reading or the purchase of pencils and paper implies writing.

Adrienne is working on this cool Master’s program and, even though she is thousands of miles away, she’s keeping me thinking. In a recent post on OneNote in Schools, she comments

However, I like you, I am not sure about OneNote in terms of a learning tool. Sure, it makes some things easier. But transformative? Notsomuch.

Part of the problem, as we discussed it, is that these tools are not designed for education: they are really productivity tools for the business world whose purposes have been re-articulated to fit into an educational setting. I think this is what the EduPunk meme was all about: a revolt to the use of office-tools in the educational environment. The irony is that the education we are trying to provide using these tools is to enable students to work in fields that extend beyond the typical office!

Unless a tool/system is designed with educational pedagogy in mind it will almost undoubtedly fail to be transformative. All educational pedagogy interested in authentic learning must include, at a minimum, the following facets:

  • Collaboration, because societies do not function in isolation.
  • Connection, because this is now an immutable fact of life.
  • Construction, because the real world requires you to make your own conclusions.
  • Reflection, because learning doesn’t happen during the test; it happens before and after.

As I think about what tools we are using in my school in this manner, it’s clear to see that few if any of can have a transformative effect on education and student learning. It’s also clear why “It’s not about the technology”: because the technology is not about education!

The transformation of education is just itching to happen. But it is being delayed by the nonexistence of systems and learning environments – not tools – that will allow students and teachers to truly harness the technological power that we possess. These systems will not come from Microsoft or Apple or any other developer who is focused on the workplace. These systems must come from educators who understand that improving efficiency does not imply improving student learning.

Electronic Portfolios – A Short Survey

(I tried this before with no success. So here we go again!)

I’m sitting on a task force that is charged with the creation of an electronic portfolio solution for our school. We are defining the rationale behind using portfolios at the PYP, MYP and possibly DP levels and then determining what platform would best suit our needs in (trying to) creating an electronic portfolio solution for the school.

An important part of this process is learning what solutions are already being used at various schools. I have already contact a few people directly via Twitter (thanks @DearLibariAnn, @MaggieSwitz and @adecardy) but if you would like to add your experiences here, I would greatly appreciate it!

(If the form does not load on this page, it can be found here.)

Implementation of Electronic Portfolios – A Survey

At UNIS Hanoi we have recently formed a task force to look at the best options for implementing electronic portfolios across the school. We currently use portfolios in our PYP and MYP years. We are looking for solutions – both in terms of pedagogy and platform – that will help us implement electronic portfolios across the school (even in the Diploma Program, which currently does not keep portfolios). If your school is currently using electronic portfolios, I would love to have your input. I have put together a Google Form (link below) to help collect information about how schools are currently using electronic portfolios. All responses are public and can be found at the second link below. Thanks in advance for your help!

Survey – Implementation of Electronic Portfolios

Results – Spreadsheet

Image: Anoto Digital Pen by Anoto Group licensed under CC BY NC ND

IB Art and Creative Commons

I had an interesting conversation with our IB Art teacher after school today. We were initially talking about Photoshop and the best way for her students to learn new techniques. Very quickly, however, the conversation turned towards copyright, fair use and creative commons.

We came up with some very interesting discussion points and I wonder what you think about any or all of them. (My thoughts are in parentheses.) I also wonder what the IBO and the examiners think on these matters:

  • If a student is creating digital artwork (in Photoshop for example), under what circumstances would you – as the Art teacher – allow him/her to use CC-licensed photos? (Personally, I would allow it. But it better be good!)
  • How does one attribute CC media when it is used to create a piece of art? (No clue!)
  • Is it a violation of copyright to use images from a magazine in student work? (Yes, definite violation.)
  • What if he/she is taking the images, cutting them into unrecognizable pieces and creating a mosaic with those images? (Less certain… does this make it transformative?)
  • What if he/she is only taking a small portion of the image so as to make it unrecognizable? (My feeling is this is a violation.)

I am certainly no expert on copyright, fair use or creative commons. But as Shepard Fairey and others before him have shown, not very many people can agree on boundaries of these terms. Do your boundaries as an artist and as a teacher of art differ?

Note: Just for fun we sat down and watched A Fair(y) Use Tale. I always enjoy watching that!

Where Does It All Go?

At the beginning of the school year I had an interesting chat with my principal. We were discussing the use of external blogging and wiki sites vs. our internal SharePoint blogs and wikis. He raised an interesting question, which I will paraphrase:

Resources developed for the school (or copies of them) are expected to remain with the school even after you leave the school. If you are doing all of your work on an external wiki or blog and you leave, how does that work remain with the school? Where does it all go?

Of course the external blogs and wikis are, for the most part, public so anybody can access them. But the admin rights to those resources remain with the teacher who has left the school. Is that a problem?

Does your school have a policy regarding intellectual property, whether digital or analog? Is this even something to be concerned about?

Parent Teacher Conferences, American Idol Style

I’ll admit it: I love American Idol. I’m not normally a fan of reality TV or the American Idol derivatives, but there is something about AI that captivates me. (Prediction: Danny Gokey is going to be the Season 8 winner. Take it to the bank!) For the record, I also tend to like things that fall into the “So bad it’s good” category: Coyote Ugly, Bring It On!, and the new Knight Rider.

Besides the inherent comic value of the auditions, one of the things I find fascinating about Idol is the judges. More specifically, I find the critique by the judges and the response of the contestants to be totally intriguing. Paula will always say something good about a contestant, even if it has nothing to do with the actual competition, and rarely offers any concrete advice. Simon is brutally honest, acidic and stingy with his praise. Randy is exuberant (“We got a HOT one tonight dawg!”) and truthful (“It was just okay for me.”) but never in a mean-spirited way. (I’m leaving out the new judge Cara because I haven’t figured her out yet. Why is she there?What does she add? I’m perplexed.)

Who do contestants try their hardest to please? Simon. Who do contestants listen to? Simon. As a teacher, who would you want to emulate at your next Parent Teacher Conference night?

Most of the time, I think teachers (all teachers!) are Paula. We feel the need to say something nice. We are all experts at speaking Teacher when we have to, of saying the hard things in a diplomatic and non-threatening way.

Every one of us (okay, maybe just me) dreams of being Simon, if only once. Oh, to say the things that are running through my head in an unedited (but safe for TV) manner would be cathartic! Brutal honesty would suit me, but would it be helpful?

Randy is my Idol when it comes to PTCs. Celebrate the good, acknowledge the bad and give some advice on how to get better. Now, if I can only get away with calling all my parents ‘dawg’…

Who is your PTC Idol?

Relatedly, what do you like that is so bad that it’s good???