2 New Tools

Just a quick post about 2 new tools that came up this week:

Google Sites – Google’s answer to wikispaces.  I haven’t used it yet but it seems to have many of the same features of wikispaces and I imagine in plays nicely with the other Google Apps.

Jottit –  An easy way to publish on the web.  Wiki-like but a much more simplified interface.  Seems to be good for text but you do have to add markups to add photos and formatting.

I’ll give these a try – I’m always game for new tools.

Evolution of English

I stumbled across this video through a post by a Columbia professor (former Bowdoin professor). The video was created by the chair of the Rutgers University English Department, Richard Miller. He makes a compelling argument about how the study of English has to evolve with the read/write world. In it he says of the study of English in the networked world:

(the study of English) excels in human expression and in the study of human culture related to human expression – we should be the place that’s at the very cutting edge of education for students in these areas.

I am glad to see more and more conversation happening in the higher ed world.  It would be nice to engage in a k-16 conversation rather than separate k-12 and 13-16 conversations. Watch it and see what you think.

Have you tried Voicethread?

I’m working on an agenda of workshops for the rest of the school year. One tool that I’d like to get teachers excited about is Voicethread. I’ve now seen it used in a number of ways with a variety of grade levels and it seems that it can be a tool that can be added just about anywhere. I’ve been reading about many teachers using Voicethread successfully (and enthusiastically) with their students:

Jeff Utecht talks about Voicethread in Art classes.

Wes Fryer post about a Voicethread project in an elementary school in NY

This post using Voicethread’s commenting feature to gather ideas on how to use Voicethread

I think the classroom opportunities are endless:

  • In Lower School, classes can use Voicethread with their own class pictures to create a audio/visual newsletter. Especially in the younger grades where students cannot write yet, this would be a great tool for the kids to use in order to better express themselves.
  • In Science classes, students could use Voicethread to document an experiment – a kind of visual lab report.
  • In Math, students could use Voicethread to narrate their way through solving a math problem in order to demonstrate their understanding.
  • In English class, they can put original poems or short stories to pictures.
  • In Art class, Voicethread can be use a tool to reflect on their work.
  • In Foreign Language, kids can create stories or tours using Flickr images and narrate them in their language.
  • In History, they could use use flickr images in a digital narration of a historical event.

I am looking forward to teaching some teachers about this wonderful tool and getting some kids excited about using it.  What are some ways you are using it?

Now what?

I’m sitting in the Philly airport with about 40 minutes left on battery. My brain is overflowing with thoughts and ideas that I’ve taken away from EduCon 2.0. Though I still need time for reflection, I have four main takeaways from Philly:

1. The students: What ever we do, it’s got to be about the students. We need to listen to them, have conversations with them, and help them develop. That work was quite evident at SLA. I was amazed at the number of students that took part in the weekend – SLA students “worked” all weekend manning video cameras, taking part in the sessions, setting up lunch, keeping us full of coffee and donuts, and more. When they were called randomly for their input, they gladly (and comfortably) gave it. You could tell that they felt part of the culture of the school and they were proud of it. (Nice work Chris and all the SLA teachers).

2. Keep having the conversations: We are all agents of change and we need to engage with others in our schools in conversations about teaching. Change will not happen quickly (probably slower than we wish), but it will not happen if we don’t keep talking the talk and walking the walk.

3. F2f conferences are necessary for re-energizing: EduCon2.0 came at the right point in the year for me. I was a little worn down and frustrated from the lack of adoption or even the lack of interest in adopting new tools by some teachers in our school. Going to EduCon2.0 pumped me back up again, gave me renewed hope, and a confirmation that what I am doing is not only important and worthwhile, but also necessary.

These are all thoughts I want to expand on later, but I wanted to get this on “paper” before my flight home.

Thanks again to Chris and company for all of their work on this wonderful conference.

Online Culture

I watched the PBS Frontline “Growing Up Online” last night (as I’m sure many of you did). I was glad to see that it was less of a “doom and gloom” look at social networks than some other shows have been. I do, however, think it could have done a better job of relaying the positives of these networks for kids. In reading the discussion posts, you can see how parents quickly grab on to the negative stories and apply them across the board. There must be a way to show the positives – the friends, the networks – that students cannot find in their everyday f2f life. As well as show the positives in education and professional lives.

What is clear to me is that we need to keep educating parents about the Internet. I only do one or two parent nights around Internet safety but think I need to do several more.  Ahhhh – just add that to my list 🙂

21 C Learning Goes Mainstream

Recess in the SnowA recent article in Time Magazine has brought the idea of 21st century learning to the mainstream media. The article raises the idea that the traditional school learning – in rows, listening, note-taking – is a very antiquated one, preparing individuals for an industrial world. The article goes on to say that schools need to adjust their expectations in order to produce global learners. This article is not news to many educators (especially those of you who read blogs), but it is a refreshing piece to see in a mainstream magazine – it caught the attention of some of my administrators.

But that article got me thinking: when I try to bring these ideas into my school, there are several obstacles to overcome (just to name a few):

1. Acceptance. Teachers must understand (and accept) that this is a real issue. They have to let go of the fact that the way they were taught is not necessarily the best or the only way to teach. I am constantly amazed by this attitude – I have found it in teachers of all generations.

2. Who should change first? As a college prep institution, we feel we have the responsibility to teach kids skills, habits, and techniques that will help graduates go on to college. This is a good theory but many college and university are teaching kids through lecture style and not incorporating any global learning/21st century skills. If we blink before colleges, will our students have trouble succeeding in college?

3. Transition. Once teachers accept that 21st century learning is important, how do we help teachers change their curriculum and pedagogy? Do we give them some sort of map that will help them begin to move their classes to the 21st century. Do we let them discover this? Whatever the answer, it will take time and that’s something we don’t have enough of in school.

4. Leadership. I fully believe that in order to make some of these changes, I need buy in from our administration (and I am not there yet). I don’t need a cheering squad – administrators that tell me I’m doing a good job and say they understand the developing 21st century skills – I need administrators who use this stuff, actually experience the importance of them first-hand.

The last obstacle is one that I am focusing on this year. I have requested some time with our administrators to do some trainings (or at least one) on tools that will help them with their jobs – RSS, GoogleDocs, Skype. I’d like to give them some tools to try and use and see the value in their own jobs so they can then see how they can contribute to student learning. I have yet to get that training time but I’m still working on it. Until then I will keep working with individuals on the faculty as they request it.

photo: “Recess in the Snow” (CaptPiper on Flickr )

More and More Online

(jeeesh – i can’t believe my last post was in September!)

I just was trying to catch up with some blog reading and I ran across Jeff Utecht’s post showing some great Art and Science online projects using Voicethread and video. I can’t wait to share them with some people here but it brings up an issue that keeps popping up around here – putting students online and parental permission.  There is a lot of paranoia about putting students on the web.  We have every parent sign a form granting us permission or forbidding us  to use photos of their child in publications and on our website.  Now that teachers are beginning to use video in their classes, slideshows of their students, and other ways to showcase student work, do we need to get permission from parents every time their child is involved in one of these projects?  How do schools handle this?  How do you educate parents without raising this paranoia?

It’s time for k12Online

Next week the k12 Online Conference will begin (October 8th).  I hope to steal away a little time to take part in this great opportunity.  Where else can you listen/watch/read keynotes and presentations by David Warlick, Clarence Fisher, Jeff Utecht, Dean Shareski, and more all in one place?  There is a lot there; a little something for everyone.  If you haven’t taken part, I encourage you to check it out.

Blogging in the classroom

I’ve read two posts today in support of blogging in the classroom. Yes, there have been many posts written about The first article, by Bradley Hammer a writing professor at Duke, on nj.com (via Patrick). Hammer writes:

As part of this change, technology has radically extended the spaces for academic debate. In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis and argumentative writing that universities value.

…But in my courses, students write blogs and few traditional papers. This isn’t just a gimmick to act young in an old game. They write blogs because we now live in a world where debate and publication happen predominantly in virtual spaces.

In addition to blogs, they maintain Web sites where they learn to interact with other writers beyond the isolating confines of the classroom. They defend their analyses and argue with real purpose be cause they are forced to be conscious of an audience beyond the limited scope of the instructor. Consequently, they are learning to think and write critically in ways that promote inquiry and genuine interest in writing and thinking.

Hammer goes on to talk about how this type of writing differs from the “traditional” writing currently taught in most high schools and colleges. I encourage you to read the whole article for yourself.

The second post came from Barbara Ganley from Middlebury College on her own blog.  I enjoyed reading her transcript/notes of her presentation to the faculty of Exeter Academy on the Harkness method and the 21st Century.  She did a compelling job of explaining how she made the journey in her own career from teaching as she had been taught (at Exeter) to her current use of blogs, social networks, and other online resources in her courses without losing sight of the strengths of the Harkness method.  You need to read her whole post because she does such a beautiful job but here’s a powerful quote:

The results of classroom blogging, as I will show you now, have been nothing short of astounding in my experience these past six years—this is now how my classes look and feel according to my students, who have become actively engaged with deep learning, developed their skills of critical and creative thinking and expression, their ability to connect and collaborate, and their confidence and skill using the digital technologies. It has been nothing short of electrifying. Staying the course for Harkness in the 21st century means evolving it to suit the needs and realities of our times, and to avail ourselves of the opportunities afforded by new ways of teaching and learning–online.

I really enjoy reading Barbara’s posts, in general.  But this one resonated with me because it captures the type of “good teaching” and learning that our school embraces.