Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our Grade 7's are leaving...

The end of the school year brings with it many great feelings. Holidays are around the corner and the smell of new school year is lingering in the air as we put together various organizations for the coming school year ( a principal's job is never done).

I am about to go into the gym and make the opening remarks to those who gather to see off our grade 7 students. I thought I'd share my remarks for your comments.

~

Leaving grade seven is a pivotal point in your lives. You are about to enter into a stage in your lives where you will have more answers than questions and more to say than you really should. Your brain is going to rewire itself and you are going to shift all priority to sleep and food. You are going to be growing in every sense of the word.

You are going to be overwhelmed by idealism. Take advantage of your desire to fix the world. Find a cause to believe in and do something about it.

I know Mr. MacLean uses words that sometimes you haven’t learned yet. So I want to make sure that you understand what I mean by idealism.

It means that you see the good in the world more than you see the bad.

It means that you see the ideal situation rather than all the things that could go wrong.

It means you are an optimist rather than a pessimist.

It means you care rather than being apathetic.

My generation was taught that we were individuals, that we were special. We were taught to stand out and be heard. We were told that in order to be successful we had to get and to have. We were the “me” generation. Well guess what. We learned our lesson all too well. We have forgotten the importance of community, the power of collaboration and cooperation.

My hope for you is that we have taught you that you need each other to be successful. It is through the richness of our differences that we achieve our greatest successes. When you seek to support rather than credit seek you will truly be rewarded. Rewarded on the inside. Your own sense of being a good person will grow. The only person who will be with you for your entire life is you. So be sure to feed yourself healthy doses of caring.

You will probably not understand what I mean by this until you are a bit older and you are able to reflect back on your teenage years.

So in the meantime do me a favour. Look after each other.

I wish you all the best in high school and be sure to come back and visit. Our door is always open.
~

And with that we close the chapter on another year at our little oasis of learning.


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Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Do Parents Plug In?

I'd like to thank @plind for this guest post. She was kind enough to respond to my Plugged In Parents Post. In my enthusiasm for both technology integration and the power of effective formative assessment, I had not given thought to the following perspective. I hope that this post encourages some debate from educators and parents alike:

By: @plind (I follow her on Twitter)

I have been mulling over the $64,000 question "Do parents want this level of involvement in their child's education?" in my mind for quite awhile now and I'd like to up the ante and ask the million dollar question of "Should parents be that involved in their child's education?"

My answer is no on both counts. I don't want to be at the "edge of my child's learning" (nor do I think I should be) -- I want to be at the fringe. I want to be close enough to cheer them on or rush the field if they are injured but far enough removed that I don't interfere with the game. I want my child to own their learning, own their successes and own their failures. They can't do that without some distance from me. The ongoing debate is -- how much distance is too much or too little?

I'm certainly not opposed to more meaningful assessments of my child's learning. Honestly the "letters" change every year on report cards -- who can keep up! I put more stock on the one paragraph written by the teacher than the alphabet soup that precedes it. However, frequently receiving 140 character updates to my phone or computer would likely drive me mad. Several different teachers using this approach with my 3 children would become overwhelming fast. Expectations would have to be clear as well. When I receive a message that my child is struggling with multiplication what does that mean? Am I to intervene? Is the teacher forming a plan to address the problem? Is the whole class struggling? Feedback without context or direction only creates anxiety and uncertainty.

When we talk about engaging parents in children's learning I think it's important to remember that there is a difference between engaging with my child to learn together and engaging with my child's schoolwork. I want to be engaged with my children and as school is a large portion of their lives of course it is an important component but not the only component. I appreciate the window into their lives that blogs, newsletters, and websites provide. I value the ambient awareness that allows me to ask better questions at the dinner table, point out signs of lifecycles on a walk or reminds me to delve into fractions while baking. However, I also have my own knowledge, passions, interests and heritage that I would like to share with my children. Over-involving me in their formal education slowly erodes my ability to engage in those moments and those moments are both precious and fleeting.

As new technologies emerge that allow us to be embedded deeper and deeper in our children's lives we all have the responsibility to ask if that is really what is best. From GPS enabled phones that track every movement, webcam enabled classrooms that we can peek into, instant, continuous feedback, and digital records of schoolwork that can be freely accessed -- when and where do children have the space to become independent? We have to be cautious as we engage with these tools and ensure that there are measures in place that allow children to become progressively more responsible for themselves and allows (even forces?) parents to step back. While the notion of involving parents more meaningfully in their child's education is a sound one, we need to do so judiciously to ensure that there is still time left in a day for parents to engage with their children around all aspects of their being, not just school.

The infinite possibilities for communication and engagement are mindboggling. However, just because we can, doesn't mean we should.


Your thoughts are solicited...

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Plugged In Parents

How do you involve parents in the formative assessment cycle. Caren Cameron says that different types of assessment have different purposes. She goes on to say that the purpose of formative assessment is to inform the student and the teacher where to go next with the learning. David Bolton calls this being on the edge of the student learning (I like that). Cameron continues to explain that summative assessment has the purpose of reporting out.

Well over the past few days I have been having micro-conversations with my twitter network about just this concept. Without fail, educators will agree that the formative assessment is where they want to spend all their time. It is relevant to the day to day learning of their students. It guides their teaching and learning. A mass of descriptive feedback occurs and students push themselves along the continuum of understanding. Where as, summative assessment is the anchor that holds new learning back. It is labourious for teachers and admin alike, it is a mere formalization of conversations that have hopefully already happened with parents. Most often it is a pseudo objective process. More realistically, it is a subjective process where behaviour and work habits too often creep in and influence what should be an evaluation of understanding and ability to apply.

Almost all educators will say that the real assessment is happening on the front lines.

How do we get parents into this cycle of feedback?

I think this is where technology can play a major role. It is true that there are many parents who are not tech savvy. There are many who are. There are too many educators who are not tech savvy. These are excuses not real barriers. It is not going to be long before the masses are using applications like twitter to micro-blog updates on everything from coffee requests to professional development questions.

I don't think that there is a silver bullet solution here. What I think is that we, as educators, need to layer the tech network/info/feedback opportunities for parents, teachers and students. Like any good differentiated classroom the educator needs to accommodate for all levels of readiness. Here are some ideas for you to look at and provide feedback.

Layers that currently seem pretty common in many schools today include school and classroom websites. Many including a calendar of events, static information like teacher lists (some with emails), school goals, mission statements and registration information. These pages also contain less static info like school newsletters, pdf versions of notices, homework worksheets and the like. These webpages are quite informative and a great place to start. They can be quite laborious for the webmaster (most often a teacher who already has lots to do). Unfortunately, many of these web pages end up outdated with dead links or dated information.

For most parents the most useful web page is a homework page that is updated daily. This page allows parents, at work for example, to check the page before they head home and then initiate a better conversation than "what did you do at school today?". The conversation changes to "how can help you with your public speech that is due in two days?". These tools depend on the parent to regularly check a webpage. Making these pages rss-able can help reduce this dependence. The next step could be a listserve for all the parents of children in the class. Personal emails to particular parents are more direct to parental routines. Many parents now check email as part of their daily routine. Teachers can take advantage of this communication tool. However, this takes a long time for teachers and sometimes emails lack the tone the teacher intended and it can sometimes lead to miscommunication that cause a mess that would need to be cleaned up. In addition, emails mostly deal with behaviour and tasks rather than descriptive feedback that help move students/parents along a continuum of understanding.

These layers are still utilitarian and while they help parents engage they still do not get parents onto the edge of their child's learning. The next level of parent engagement is archival apps that capture work and provide opportunities for a community of feedback. Class and/or student blogs that allow parents to be a part of the network that can comment on work bring parents into the feedback loop. Voicethread.com allows for work to be displayed and then for feedback to be layered in on various aspects of the work. Peers, teachers and parents can all provide descriptive feedback. Class wikis can show off group work and link aggregators like delicious.com allow students to collaborate and for parents to stay abreast of the various projects their students are working on.

The final layer I want to talk about puts the parent right on the edge of student learning. I don't see this being a reality in my current school system just yet. But I think that it has huge potential once all the bugs are worked out. Once teachers shift their pedagogy to a child centered classroom where open ended tasks are differentiated for the various groups of needs in the room and children have spent a good chunk of time at the beginning of the year learning how learning is going to function in the classroom, the teacher is able to get down and dirty with individual students for micro-conferences in which the teacher is able to push the student to the next level of thinking and also provide formative (highly descriptive) feedback on what the student needs to do next and where they are succeeding. Teacher could use micro-social networks like edmodo.com, ning.com, and/or buzzable.com to micro-blog (140 characters or less) a paraphrasing of the specific feedback (or as one of my staff suggested, use voice recognition software to simply speak the feedback into a micro-blog tool). Using hashtag (i.e. #jared) the micro-blog entries would be archived and easily sorted when it came time to write summative report cards. Parent conversations would totally change at home because both parent and student would have the feedback comment to initiate dialogue. Students could look back at the archived feedback so as to make adjustments to assignments once they looked at them again at home.

All of these tools can be found as free web 2.0 apps or they could be arranged under the convenient umbrella of a district/school or class portal. For more information on portals check out the excellent work of Cindy Seibel at http://portalguide.tech4learning.ca/

This idea could actually happen right now. Using one of the micro-blogging apps mentioned above and if parent, student and teacher had a web browser ready cell phone (i.e iPhone), we could involve parents in the formative assessment cycle live as it happens.

The 64000 dollar question is not whether we can do this or how do we make this a reality. The real question is do the majority of parents really want this level of involvement in their children's education?

I now solicit your thoughts and feedback.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Journey To Theory...

So many conversations with so many people. This needs to change. That should be like this. Everyone of the ideas I have read about, discussed or debated have been outstanding in their own right. How do we go from conversations to real time change?

Well if you look at versions of change theory, the first action is to create the need for change. Create an urgency if you will. Why would a school board, district staff want to make changes unless they saw a reason for that change. Why would a province, for that matter, look at curricular change if what they were doing seemed to be working. This is easy enough to do on a small scale (i.e. stop sending paper memos to staff and only provide critical information on email to help staff move to using email on a daily basis).

How do we initiate large scale change?

For practical reasons, let's start by looking at the public school calendar and schedule. In our province the majority of schools are open September - June with 2 weeks off for Christmas, a week off in the spring and 2 months off for summer. This schedule hearkens back to a society where agricultural needs took priority over urban needs. Children were needed to help with the harvest. Most schools schedules can trace their origins back to allowing children to do their farm chores in the morning before getting to school and then home in time to help with the farm chores after school.

This does not come anywhere near the current societal needs. Many families now have two working parents desperate for caregivers who can watch their children from 7am-6pm. The pressure on our school system and day care system is daunting. Can we find a way to partner all the current players that raise our children. The axiom that it takes a community to raise a child has never applied more than in today's context.

Public schools, parks and rec., musical theatre companies, sports organizations, art schools, private businesses, and trades organizations should all be working together to provide a smorgasbord of opportunities for our students. Not just at the high school level, but all the way down to early childhood education. In addition, we should be working with employers to encourage parental involvement in their child's learning and the parents should be learning along side their child. It would take a complete societal paradigm shift. "School" would no longer be the industrial revolution based institution that churns out a work force. It would become the experiences that teach children to be productive citizens.

The schedule of schooling would differentiate for each child. Parents would be able to expose their children to the entire matrix of opportunities. You would have to integrate teacher shifts, experts coming in to teach, field experiences. You would have to be an incredibly creative accountant. You would have to have the political will to prioritize the education of our children. Private/public partnerships would have to be entered into so that funding would not be a crippling barrier. School facilities would be used year round from early morning into the evening. It would all be integrated. The teachers would become facilitators of educational experiences. They would ensure that children were meeting a required set of opportunities. They would be charged with ongoing parent communication where descriptive feedback would be the norm. There would be no marks or structures of comparisons needed. Our "system" would get onto the edge of learning for each child. Parents would have to be more involved in their child's education. Employers would have to be prepared to incorporate their employees having to schedule their work day around being involved in their child's educational experiences.

Collaborative technology would have to play a major role in making this a reality.

It would take a societal paradigm shift.

Is this overwhelming?

Where is this happening?

Where do you start such a large scale change?

Why is the current education system like a giant elastic band. You can stretch it a long way but it always eventually springs back to its original shape. How do you snap the elastic band?

Your thoughts are encouraged.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Get Back UP!

One of the advantages of being a blogger in the educational world is that people send you tidbits of joy and strength.

Thank you to my school psychologist for providing this short bit of inner strength.

video

The part I like is the hug line at the end. A hug comes from the heart not from the arms.

It seems obvious, but I'm curious to what ideas this spawns in your imagination. How could this clip be used in a K-7 school?

***UPDATE***

Since I put this post up I have had a large number of hits on my blog from The Land Down Under. I'd love for the Aussies to comment on this presenter. I take from his accent that he could be from Australia.


Leave a comment and teach me about him.

thanks for you input.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mr. Mom

My poor wife. She has been bed ridden for the past 3 days with bronchitis. As such, I have been doing the run around with our three kids and going to work. It is at these particularly busy times that we are thankful that we have such a helpful extended family. Ah well, I share this video as a tribute to all that moms do.


video

Whew....I leave you now to collapse now that all three kids have been picked up from their various after-school activities and have been fed and put to bed and the laundry is done and the dishes are washed and the lunches are made for the next day and the appropriate equipment bags are ready for the next days activities and the arrangements have been made for who is picking who up and dropping who off and my work stuff I brought home is done and I have picked up the valentines cards for all three classes for each kid and I have eaten something somewhere in there. All is set so we can do it all over again tomorrow.

If this seems like a complaining moment, it is not. It is a timely reminder that our students have lives outside of school. They bring with them schedules, stresses and passions. We should be wary of the demands we place on students that extend outside of the school schedule. We should value the learning that they do outside of our walls and we should try to incorporate that learning into our teaching.

Good nighzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

5 "Dangerous" Things for Your Kids.

As many of you are, I am a TED.com fanatic. I find my intellect being challenged on a daily basis by incredible minds and provocative thoughts. The following short episode from TED.com is the inspiration for this post.



Sooooo...this begs the quest to list...

5 "dangerous" DIGITAL things for your kids.

1. Sign up for an email account.

There are so many free ones that are web based; yahoo, hotmail, gmail etc. Use the opportunity to talk to your child about the importance of tone in their writing. Discuss what respectful use of email looks like. Empower your kids to take control of their own inbox. Brainstorm ways that you can filter out and/or eliminate unwanted SPAM. Explore the perils of phishing. Teach them what to delete and to never give out personal information, no matter how official the email looks. Give them real relevant reasons to use email. Keep in touch with long distance relatives etc. Sign up with epals and connect with kids around the world.

2. Make social networking accounts

You are never too young to establish a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Twitter allows children to network through micro-blogs. Sites like Facebook and MySpace used appropriately allows  students to network and share ideas. It connects kids. Some of my colleagues would say that the digital natives are less connected because they don't know how to communicate. They don't meet face to face enough. I agree with David Warlick who said in his k12 Online 2007 Keynote, that this generation of kids is more connected than any other generation has ever been. I think that they place different emphasis on the types of interactions that older generations hold dear. This does not make them more or less connected, it makes them differently connected. In addition having an account with a social networking site provides kids with an opportunity to learn about policy setting, permissions, digital footprints, and permanency. A great post that pertains to many of the issues around facebook can be found here: Facing Facebook. This post by David Truss and the subsequent comments really hit the nail on the head when it comes to approaching Facebook in a proactive way. 

3. Create a blog and have an opinion.

Interact with other people's ideas. If you are worried about revealing too much personal information use a pseudonym for anonymity while still establishing a net identity. This also becomes a great opportunity to discuss how much info you share in a profile. The power of audience has an amazing effect on student writing. The power of commenting on someone else's writing and establishing a feedback loop is tenfold. My favourite example of this comes from a former student of mine over at Wandering Ink. Her post "How to Prevent the Another Leonardo da Vinci" ended up turning so many heads that it was nominated for EduBlog's most influencial post in 2007.

4. Sign up for a kid's virtual space

Webkinz, and Club Penguin for example are as close to bubble wrapping your young as they learn about e-commerce and how to manage a budget. The virtual worlds are like Second Life Light. They can sort of instant message through canned phrases. Kids explore architecture and mapping. They learn to care for a "pet". They are introduced to gaming through educational opportunities. They build a portfolio. All these skills translate into real net skills. These sites are great training grounds.

5. Contribute to a wiki, better yet establish a wiki.

Almost everyone has heard of Wikipedia. Go find an entry that you know something about and make a contribution. Be sure to track any changes to that entry. PBwiki and Wikispaces are also great starting places if you are looking to establish your own wiki. Collaboration is a highly sought after skill, the sooner you learn how to be a productive member of a collective the better. If you are looking to start somewhere, start with our Digital Citizen Project.

Bonus activity

Learn about hacking, malware, zombies, botnets, anonymous proxies and all the things that "bad guys" use to wreck the digital landscape and learn how real people are affected by these actions. Learn why digitally responsible people need to take back the net like students who take back the playground from the bullies.

It is our job as the adults (parents, guardians and educators) to provide children with opportunities to explore the digital world armed with skills, understanding and knowledge. None of which can be accomplished by filtering, blocking or banning.

None of these things should happen in a locked bedroom. Get involved in your kids' digital life. Help them navigate the the digital world and establish a digital footprint (must read article by Will Richardson in Educational Leadership) that is flattering. Like Gever Tulley suggests, real learning requires bumps and bruises. Be there to pick your kids up, kiss them better and surge on.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Digital Citizen Project

Over the last year or so, I have been trying to mull an idea around that would allow me to alleviate the fear based concerns of parents and staff about our children using the net for all sorts of reasons. I have read blogs and articles, watched webcasts and read books (gasp) on various models of motivating and empowering students to be intrinsically digitally responsible.

Some of you may have read my past thoughts on the matter here, here and here.

While there are many lessons on cyberbullying, good resources on safe internet use and articles about risks of sharing your identity, there is very little out there that seeks a proactive approach to empowering students to demonstrate that the majority of students are using the net in a responsible, respectful and effective way.

So as of today (Dec 3rd, 2008), I launched a public wiki called "The Digital Citizen Project" (http://digitalcitizenproject.wikispaces.com). Much to my chagrin there is another project at the university of Illinois that has the same name. The goal of their project is not at all the same as our goals. Having said this, I dig the name so I hope that we can share.

At this stage we have 5 goals. They include;

1. Create a global student driven wiki that espouses the beliefs of digitally responsible students

2. Host examples and stories of students working to eliminate irresponsible internet use

3. Facilitate a student driven curriculum for safe web living, learning and sharing

4. Network students, educators and parents who want to break down fear based concerns of internet use in schools and homes

5. Provide students, educators and parents with a resource for facilitating the conversation about what it means to be digitally literate and digitally responsible.

Please visit and add your own goals (it is a public wiki after all) and share with your personal learning network. I call on educators from around the world to find students from elementary schools, middle schools and secondary schools from around the world who want to show the world what it means to be a positive digital citizen. Students who want to drive policy, trends and ideas. Students who want to show that school districts need not be concerned about minimally filtered networks. That the net and web 2.0 is ubiquitous and an essential tool for learning. The future is now and the future is respectful, responsible and intelligent. Help us prove it!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Terminology and Technology MisMatch

How many times have you had a conversation with a teacher who does not really understand what integrating "technology" into an educational setting looks like?

The term technology often gets assigned to any activity that includes a computer. This is simply not adequate anymore. Let me provide you with an example. Kathleen Gregory, who is a celebrated assessment guru, produced a series of mini-clips on YouTube addressing the short-comings of current assessment practices.

Kathleen is an excellent presenter and she has done amazing work in shifting the paradigm around assessment. She has successfully demonstrated the need to increase the amount of authentic assessment FOR learning. I admire her work and strive to model my assessment practices after her work. It is because I hold her opinion in such high regard that this particular mini-clip causes me angst. It is titled "Problems with Technology".



I agree with the gist of what she is professing. Software like Grade Maker does put assessment blinder on teachers who are trying to come up with an "objective" number so that they can assign a letter grade. My issue is the statement that it is the technology that is the problem. Teachers looking to weigh assignments, average assignments, find quantitative data will do it whether they use an excel spreadsheet, a marks book, or a piece of software.

Technology used appropriately can enhance a teachers ability to assess students. Simple examples include blog portfolios of student self-assessments, collaborative wikis that reflect group processes, digital photos used as prompts to help students articulate their thinking and rubistar that allows students and teachers to create assessment rubrics to name a few.

I call on digital educators to model the use of appropriate "technology" when assessing their students. What are you using?

thanks

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest we forget...

Each year we gather as a school and share feelings, poems, songs and stories...lest we forget.

Each year I am moved as our youth connect to the past. This year we hosted a WWII vet at our assembly. He read the names of four friends that did not return home with him. You could feel the sadness in the room as he quietly saluted the memories of his brothers. He lay a wreath to honour his fallen comrades...lest we forget.

As the ceremonies came to an end, one of our grade 5 students shared her thoughts on why we remember. She graciously thanked those who had sacrificed their lives for the freedoms that she enjoys. She expressed empathy towards families of current war casualties who had to look across the dinner table at an empty seat. She then shot a shiver up my spine as she paused and looked up at the audience and stated in a plain tone, "It is depressing that it seems that we have not learned from our past mistakes".

From the mouth of babes...lest we forget.

Our school celebrates the multi-cultural nature of our population. We have 21 different nations represented, 14 different languages and at least one student from every continent in the world (excluding the antarctic). Our school hosts international students that pay to attend our school district, we also enroll refugee students from three different conflict zones. I can confidently say that while race does enter conversations in our classrooms, it is in an effort to understand and learn from our differences and to mine for our similarities. On a day when we are to remember the fallen and those who serve, I am asked by a ten year old to question if we have learned. I can't say that we have, but I can say that many of us are trying.

On Nov. 4th, 7 days earlier, I sat on my couch watching the election results in the USA. As a Canadian, I felt anxious as the numbers trickled in. Beside me sat my mother who told me stories of traveling through the southern states in 1967. Her and my father recount being scared for their safety as they witnessed tensions between races. As CNN called the election in Obama's favour, tears streamed down my mother's face as the power of the moment overwhelmed her. When Barack took the stage in Grant Park she could only manage to whisper through her emotion that she never thought that this day would come. We sat in silence as Obama gave the world hope that we were going to enter a new era of social responsibility. We believe him. We have to...lest we forget.

At the end of the evening, I walked my mother back to her car. She smiled at me and expressed that we had just witnessed a turning point in history. She paraphrased the story Obama related about all that the 106 year old voter had seen in her life-time. My mother marveled at how far Americans had come (noting that there was still a long way to go). She again repeated that she never thought that she would witness this growth before her passing. So I asked her a question that had been sitting with me all evening.

In thirty years as my son walks me to my car after an evening visit, what will I have seen that I never thought would happen?

Would I have seen the world electing a council of leaders that had risen above our petty differences of nationhood and religion?

Would I have seen a race of men and women who had learned from the conflicts of the past?

Will peaceful measures ever be the default position?

Lest we forget.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reframing the non-Autistic Mind

Moms never stop teaching you. Mine sent me this video clip that the CBC aired on October 27th, 2008. Thank you mom, you have again provided me with a valuable tool to advocate for a world of understanding and compassion.

Please take 19 minutes and watch this video. I'd love your feedback.

POSITIVELY AUTISTIC


thank you,

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Student Driven Learning Goes Retro

Sitting up on one of my shelves beside the Ichiro bobble head is my Rubik's Cube. I have had this puzzle with me since the 80's. Two days ago one of my teachers bursts into my office "YOU GOTTA SEE THIS" he says. In walks one of his students with his own cube. The teacher proceeds to mix the cube quite thoroughly. Two minutes later the cube has been solved in a flurry of wrist twirls.

In of itself, this child's talent was impressive. But what excited me even more was the conversation that I had with the student after his demonstration. I of course wanted to know how long this student had been practicing for. He replied that he just started last week. I was floored. I remember spending months back in the 80's reading books and practicing moves and sharing strategies with my friends. This student had accomplished the same feat in a week.

How did you learn. He directed me to the net. "YouTube has a series of tutorials and you just watch them to learn about the 8 different moves you need to make."

PART 1


PART 2


Two days later, my student came back with a 5 x 5 cube and explained that he had learned how to solve this one. He was now working on an even bigger one and he was teaching his younger brother who had been watching him and wanted to learn.

This grade 5 student has now grasped the concept of what an algorithm is. It is my intention to show him a few algorithms that apply to solving mathematical tasks. What a way to engage students. My challenge to the students will be to find other video tutorials by kids for kids that can be applied to the activities they are doing in class.

What online tutorials do you use in your classrooms?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Students Rap About Cyber Safety


This is a neat Rap Song that some students in Boston have done about cybersafety. It is worth a listen. This song will be an excellent catalyst for empowering our students to find creative ways to teach each other about cybersafety.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Responsible Digital Citizens Start by Being Responsible Children

An interesting phenomenon occurs when you ask students what the school rules are. Despite not having school rules listed anywhere in the school and without ever having explicitly taught a set of school rules to the student body, students are able to recite a whole cacophony of rules. No running in the halls, not hitting, no name calling, no spitting, no chewing gum, no cell phones, no hats, no pushing and the list goes on. The "NO" list.

At an assembly at the beginning of the year our staff was able to facilitate this innate sense of rule following to an understanding of what it is to be a school citizen. Through a series of activities, big buddies worked with little buddies on converting perceived rules into beliefs. For example, no running, no hitting, no pushing was transformed into "At our school we believe in SAFETY". This process taken from the book "Creating the Conditions" by Diane Gossen proved to be a vital step in changing the conversation. Instead of "Jonny stop running" the conversation becomes "Jonny can you tell me what we believe in at our school?" Since Jonny was part of coming up with the school belief of SAFETY he is able to self correct and begin to internalize appropriate hallway behaviour.

At our school the students were able to boil it down to 6 core beliefs. They include the following:

At our school we believe in Responsibility, Healthy Living, Inclusion, Honesty, Safety and Respect Y.O.E. (yourself, others & the environment). Interestingly, this list was extremely similar to lists that other schools that have gone through this process have come up with.

Next we learned about inukshuks. Simply put inukshuks are Inuit stone statues that are meant to serve as guiding posts. We took our 6 beliefs and cut out big paper stones. On each stone we wrote one of the beliefs. Then we created a giant 2 dimensional inukshuk on the back wall of our stage. Surrounding each of the belief words on the stones the students then listed what that belief looked like, sounded like and felt like. The whole process served as an excellent vehicle for creating a common language of social responsibility and for empowering student ownership of student behaviour.

This school-wide "social contract" has been in place for just over a month. Student know that when they find themselves in the office, the conversation will be about our beliefs and about the student finding a way to repair their mistake through problem solving. Students who make mistakes are seen as providers of learning opportunities and if all involved learn from the mistake the students return to the community strengthened by their new knowledge.

The jump to the virtual world is an easy one. Our beliefs transcend firewalls, routers and servers. Rather than depend on filters, blocked popups and lock down procedures. We help our students understand that being digitally responsible citizens is no different than being responsible school citizens. Along with teaching students about internet safety, students are expected to behave in a manner that adheres to our school beliefs. When a student makes a mistake around internet behaviour, we treat it the same as if the student made a mistake in the real world. We help that student repair any damage done and we empower the student to meet the need saught by the misguided behaviour in another way.

The conversation now revolves around understanding our needs. Because all behaviour has purpose and the purpose is to meet one of the following needs: Fun, Belonging, Mastery, Freedom, Survival. The virtual world is yet another avenue for students to meet these needs. It is important that we help students meet these needs in the virtual world just like we help students meet these needs in the real world. Once you give the students ownership of their behaviour and you give them the vocabulary to articulate their needs the "discipline" conversation changes.

Some of my colleagues don't trust this process, what do you think?

Photo credit: Dave MacLean - Still Water Inukshuk - Powell River BC Canada

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let the Rabbits Run

Our district superintendent started our Leadership Team meeting this week with a parable from the book: Soar With Your Strengths. I goes like this:

Imagine there is a meadow. In that meadow there is a duck, a fish, an eagle, an owl, a squirrel, and a rabbit. They decide they want to have a school so they can be smart, just like people.

With the help of some grown-up animals, they come up with a curriculum they believe will make a well-rounded animal: running, swimming, tree climbing, jumping, and flying.

On the first day of school, little rabbit combed his ears, and he went hopping off to his running class.

There he was a star. He ran to the top of the hill and back as fast as he could go, and, oh, did it feel good. He said to himself, “I can’t believe it. At school, I get to do what I do best.”

The instructor said, “Rabbit, you really have talent for running. You have great muscles in your rear legs. With some training, you will get more out of every hop.”

The rabbit said, “I love school. I get to do what I like to do and get to learn to do it better.”

The next class was swimming. When the rabbit smelled the chlorine, he said, “Wait, wait! Rabbits don’t like to swim.”

The instructor said, “Well, you may not like it now, but five years from now you’ll know it was a good thing for you.”

In the tree-climbing class, a tree trunk was set at a 30-degree angle so all the animals had a chance to succeed. The little rabbit tried so hard he hurt his leg.

In jumping class, the rabbit got along just fine; in flying class, he had a problem. So the teacher gave him a test and discovered he belonged in remedial flying.

In remedial flying class, the rabbit had to practice jumping off a cliff. They told him if he’d just work hard enough, he could succeed.

The next morning, he went on to swimming class. The instructor said, “Today we jump in the water.”

“Wait, wait. I talked to my parents about swimming. They didn’t learn to swim. We don’t like to get wet. I’d like to drop this course.” The instructor said, “You can’t drop it. The drop-and-add period is over. At this point you have a choice: Either you jump in or you flunk.”

The rabbit jumped in. He panicked! He went down once. He went down twice. Bubbles came up. The instructor saw he was drowning and pulled him out. The other animals had never seen anything quite as funny as this wet rabbit who looked more like a rat without a tail, and so they chirped, and jumped, and barked, and laughed at the rabbit. The rabbit was more humiliated than he had ever been in his life. He wanted desperately to get out of class that day. He was glad when it was over.

He thought that he would head home, that his parents would understand and help him. When he arrived, he said to his parents, “I don’t like school. I just want to be free.”

If the rabbits are going to get ahead, you have to get a diploma, replied his parents.

The rabbit said, I don’t want a diploma.

The parents said, “You’re going to get a diploma whether you want one or not.”

They argued, and finally the parents made the rabbit go to bed. In the morning the rabbit headed off to school with a slow hop. Then he remembered that the principal had said that any time he had a
problem to remember that the counselor’s door is always open.

When he arrived at school, he hopped up in the chair by the counselor and said, “I don’t like school.”

And the counselor said, “Mmmm, tell me about it.”

And the rabbit did.

The counselor said, “Rabbit, I hear you. I hear you saying you don’t like school because you don’t like swimming. I think I have diagnosed that correctly.”

“Rabbit, I tell you what we’ll do. You’re doing just fine in running. I don’t know why you need to work on running. What you need to work on is swimming. I’ll arrange it so you don’t have to go to running anymore, and you can have two periods of swimming.”

When the rabbit heard that, he just threw up!

As the rabbit hopped out of the counselor’s office, he looked up and saw his old friend, the Wise Old Owl, who cocked his head and said, “Rabbit, life doesn’t have to be that way. We could have schools and businesses where people are allowed to concentrate on what they do well.”

Rabbit was inspired. He thought when he graduated, he would start a business where the rabbits would do nothing but run, the squirrels could just climb trees, and the fish could just swim. As he disappeared into the meadow, he sighed softly to himself and said…

“Oh, what a great place that would be.”

The immediate response is that, as teachers, we have a curriculum that we are mandated to get through. I guess my question is:

How can we live into this possibility?

The Art of Possibility

At our recent Pro D day, our staff watched Ben Zander and his wife talk about the Art of Possibility. The intention of the viewing was to start the day off with sparks of inspiration and thoughtful reflection on our practice. The debrief was intended to be 15 minutes or so. An hour and a half later we were still have one of the most self reflective discussions I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.

It is not necessary for me to share the contents of our conversation here because, while the value of the conversation was high, the context of our staff is required to have it make sense in a public conversation. Having said this, I would like to share that our conversation revolved around how to motivate students. How to engage. What can we do to better our teaching practices so that students will want to direct their own learning.

The conversation was peppered with debate around the role of healthy competition and the role of collaboration. One teacher brought the conversation to an audible pause of reflection when she ask why we can't just let the students be. She wanted to let her students quiet the inner voice and just be curious.

Another teacher asked where do we go wrong. Students seem to start kindergarten with an innate sense of learning and then it progressively dwindles.

While other teachers rightfully reminded us of our ministerial duties to report to parents and others. So the question was left floating out there for water-cooler consumption. How can we provide an environment that minimizes the inner voice noise of evaluative pressure and still meet the administrative requirement of our job?

As an administrator, I feel so lucky. I get to go into classes and teach for the purpose of learning. My evaluative relationship with the students is benign.

Sometimes, as a principal, you get lucky and your staff lead you down a path of learning that you did not intend. Thanks Guys!

A footnote: Leadership; the Art of Possibility is a video that the Zanders put out for purchase. Our district is lucky enough to own a couple copies of this amazing video. However, if you are not so lucky, Ben has a presentation that is archived on TED TALKS that speaks to many of the same ideas that is well worth the view, called

Shining Eyes

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Futilitarian State

It has been a couple of weeks since last I posted. As a principal, this time of year is filled with the myriad of evaluation and assessment that needs to be done in order to fulfill the accountability expectations that our educational system and parent population require.

It is at this time of year that I slump into a futilitarian state. Often I feel that convention gets in the way of creativity. An opinion shared by Kris (an ex-student of mine) at Wandering Ink in her brilliant post about Killing the Next Da Vinci.

[an aside to this post. Kris' blog post has made the edublogosphere take notice. One of the best commentary posts linked to her post is here at Dave Truss' blog Pair-a-Dimes for your thoughts. Dave was Kris' teacher the year after me. These posts and subsequent reactions/comments are a must read for educators.]


Back to my point. In the last two weeks I have read a plethora of report cards, crunched data for growth plans, garnered consensus on goals and objectives and reviewed our results from our provincial Foundational Skills Assessments that we wrote in February.

Why?

Unnecessary and unfortunate comparison.

Innate in our system (in British Columbia, Canada), is a competitive thread. Convention if you will. It starts with the universities who require a particular Grade Point Average for entrance into their programs. This necessitates a grading system in the high-schools that is quantitative so that the method to achieve said grade appears to be transparent. The majority of the high-schools, therefore, use a percentage based benchmark where (for most) 86% equates to an "A" which counts for 4 points and 72% equates to a "B" which counts for 3 points and so on. The points are then averaged to get a grade point average. To most educators (and non-educators for that matter) this sounds like the typical experience. The issue that this evaluative mentality creates is that it trickles down to the early grades. Parents, who's last experience with the education system was high school, impose their experience and thus schema of evaluation onto the report card that their child in grade four gets for example. In British Columbia we start giving students grades in grade 4. Up to that point we use anecdotal comments that use performance standards language. Unfortunately, due to being so ingrained, many parents impose their letter grade schema onto the anecdotal language. As soon as you assign grades, students stop learning for the love of learning and they start learning how to play the marks game.

Let me share a story to illustrate. I watched as a 10 year old negotiated with a teacher to get an additional mark on a math test ( a very common experience for teachers). I couldn't help myself, I had to insert myself into the conversation. I asked the student to explain their interpretation of the question, their rational for their answer and the process by which they arrived at that answer. The student, who had scored a 14/16 on the test already, spent thirty minutes going through this process with me. In doing so, the student demonstrated an extremely advanced level of understanding of the concept being discussed. He had made a minor calculation error and thus ended up with the wrong "correct" answer so the teacher had given him part marks. Sounds fair, the student was given marks for process but lost marks for an incorrect answer (again, a very common practice).

Now here is my problem with this "common experience". The teacher lost that student and the teachable opportunity was killed. Let me offer an alternative scenario. Give the students the question or series of questions. Facilitate their struggles by asking questions rather than giving answers. Let them make the "mistakes". Point out fact to them i.e. "your process is sound but their is a calculation error on your page". Empower them i.e. "what did you discover whilst looking for your error?" "Share it with a classmate/class". Make note of this student's experience in an assessment log. Use this note in your communication with his/her parent.

The end result of the summative test with a mark of 14/16 (which is a pretty strong mark) was that this student felt slighted and all he took from the experience was that he had been "punished" for his miscalculation. The test was then filed in his binder (best case scenario) or more likely stuffed in his desk or in the garbage (worse case scenario). The student is more than likely going to eliminate the test experience from his mathematical schema to allow for the next cram session.

The end result of the facilitated math experience is that the student will have had his mastery needs met because he was able to fix a miscalculation, he was able to share his fix and feel safe about making mistakes and learning from them. This student is more likely to embed the concept into his mathematical schema. When the teacher communicates with the parent, the student's progress is reported rather than a comparison to a benchmark.

FACT: Students do not need marks to be motivated. Most of the best work I have ever seen came from students who were not worried about evaluative handcuffs.

Example #1 (I was made aware of this example by Dave Truss who is an administrative colleague of mine. The example is far to powerful to simply link to it and hope that you feel inclined to follow the link and thus I embed it here):

The assignment was as follows:

"Pick an issue in the school and then create a video that promotes awareness of the problem and/or a solution to the problem"

This assignment was given to the advisory classes at the Middle School that I used to teach at. The predominant mandate of advisory is to ensure that all students feel connected to an adult in the school who's relationship is devoid of the constraints evaluation places on said relationship. In other words, everything that they do in advisory is NOT for marks but rather for learning.

Here is the result of my ex-teaching partner's class. Wow!



Example #2:

In my last year of classroom teaching, I had become frustrated with the concept of marks as an evaluative tool. So I did the obligatory marks collection in May and then cut marks off for all of June. I told the students this. I then approached my teaching team with an idea. At our middle school we teach in teams. In our case three teachers shared 90 students. We told the students that they were going to write, illustrate and publish children's books for the kindergarten classes at the schools that fed into our middle school. We told them that they would have to apply for one of three positions, illustrator, writer/editor, and publisher/editor. We then took these application and created teams of 10-12 students. For the first week, all the artists worked with the teacher on our team who happened to be a graphic artist. The writers worked with the other teacher on our team, and I took the publishers. We all looked at children's books that we all loved. We determined what made them so good and created brainstorm lists that turned into guiding criteria. For the next two and half weeks, the teams of 10-12 students worked on creating their storyboards, drafts, and then finally published product.

The end result was that we had 8 fully illustrated stories. The storyboards ranged from action adventure to anti-bullying morality. The students then took these books to the kindergarten classes and read them. The writing, illustrating and publishing process was so intense that it dominated our curriculum for most of June and yet it was the students who drove this project. I have never seen students work so hard as they did on these books. Not a single mark was given out. Not a single answer was given. Our teaching team was truly along for the ride. We were a resource and we were guides. Nothing more. It was the best teaching experience that I have had.

So as I sit here up to my neck in report cards and growth plans, I pang for the days of learning for the sake of learning. I proclaim that my futilitarian state can be rebuked by those who teach children to learn not to jump through hoops. It is my goal to help my staff work within our innately competitive system to empower students to learn because it is there to learn. Marks be gone.....well as much as we are allowed to by law.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad and There You Have the Facts of Life...

Nancy Willard, the director for the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet wrote an article discussing the various aspects of internet safety. It is articles like this that worry me. Almost like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Student use of Web 2.0 technologies is expanding, along with incredible opportunities for interactive educational activities -- and a host of risk and management concerns. Even the most die-hard techies now recognize that filtering systems are not the solution they were promised to be. In many schools, students regularly bypass the filter -- not to get to porn sites, but to access their favorite social networking sites.


This statement gives me hope. It is a recognition of two key facts of student internet use.

Fact 1: Filters are useless! In fact blocking social networking sites only creates a sense of taboo and heightens the natural and healthy rebellion nature of adolescent users. Many of my students see the filters as a challenge. I have, in the past, played right into this natural tendency and challenged my students to find me a YouTube clip that pertains to the area of curriculum that we are studying. Both the students and I knew full well that YouTube clips would be blocked and yet the students found a way around the filter using a proxy server. The interesting angle to this story is that the students that I was working with were in grade four. One of the students' brother had shown him how to use a proxy server. All he did was google "proxy server" and "YouTube" and in about 3 minutes we were watching a YouTube clip of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. We were discussing the violence seen in cartoons.

Fact 2: Students (especially elementary students) do not seek the negative aspects of the net. We start with the premise that the vast majority of children wish to do good things and be good people. In fact, whenever I have experienced a "mistaken" destination that involved porn or the like, the students have always either pressed back and quickly told me about it or turned the monitor off and told me about it. They are more embarrassed than anything. We have alerted the rest of the students to the "mistake", added it to our learning experience and have moved on without making a big deal about it.

That was the good from the article (the sheep), now for the bad (here comes the big bad wolf).

Willard goes on to talk about providing 5 key and comprehensive strategies to keeping students safe. The first component is the one that bothers me the most;

Educational Use
Schools must ensure that when students use the Internet, their activities have an educational purpose -- class assignments, extra credit work, and perhaps some high quality enrichment activities as a reward. The more well-prepared teachers are to lead students in high quality exciting Internet-based learning activities, the more likely students will be on-task. And when students are “on-task,” problems dissipate.


My issue here is that by defining appropriate use of the internet as needing to be for educational purposes only, you geekify the integration of technology. Conversely, if we find ways to use the aspects of the internet that students gravitate to to teach the concepts from our curriculums, then we are more likely to increase the engagement level in our lessons. The statement that we should use quality enrichment activities as a reward really bothers me on a number of levels. First of all, being rewarded with high quality implies that those who are not being rewarded are not getting high quality. As a principal, I'd want to investigate this concept. Secondly, too often technology is seen as an add on, when you finish your real work, then you can use a computer for extra credit work. Again, those who subscribe to this paradigm are missing the boat. We need to be working hard to ensure that technology is being seamlessly integrated into the daily lives of learning.

In addition, I hated it when my teacher would put a whole bunch of notes on the overhead and then proceed to read them to me. I could read! Let me explore the topic on my own and create my own questions. Be there to guide my thinking. Don't be the sage on the stage, be my guide on the side. Scaffold my ideas and push me to expand my thinking. Don't lead me to the answers, teach me to ask the questions. Well-prepared teachers who lead will never be more engaging than teachers who facilitate student directed learning experiences. If I am directing my learning, then I am obviously engaged and have no reason to cause problems.

Willard's other strategies revolve around close supervision, monitoring, consequences, investigating accidental access to porn. To be frank, I see this as fear mongering. Strategies like these feed the beast that is justification for the filtering and blocking that Willard indicated was inappropriate.

What we need to do is take a hard look at why students behave. If we want them to truly be responsible and respectful digital students it has to come from within. In Diane Gossen's book "It's all about We" she quotes James Wilson as indicating that people behave for three reasons:

1. To avoid pain - What will happen to me?

2. For respect or reward from others - What will I get?

3. For respect for self - Who will I be?

The goal is to help students to ask and be able to answer question #3. Because ultimately, there is no punishment great enough to stop someone who does not care and there is no reward great enough for someone who does not care. The first two questions are agents of coercion. Coercion leaves negative legacies including guilt, resentment and conformity (among others) in its wake. Where as question number three empowers students to draw upon and evaluate their values and beliefs. In order for this to work however, we need to explicitly teach students to understand what they belief in and what they value. Not an easy task.

image from PhotoshopTalent.com

Monday, June 2, 2008

Launch Your Web 2.0 Exploration From Here...

Earlier this year I attended F.E.T.C. 2008. It was an amazing opportunity to network with other educators. One of the huge benefits was meeting Susan Brooks-Young (her blog can be found here)and her team during a presentation that they did on various Web 2.0 applications. The session itself was good, however I have since discovered that the best part of this encounter (other than meeting the people involved) was being part of a wiki called webtoolsforeducators. This site sends me updates (as most wiki's do), every time a new Web 2.0 app is added to the wiki. If you are just beginning your exploration of Web 2.0 applications or are looking to add to your repertoire, this is a great place to go.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Another piece for the puzzle...



In my YouTube search on motivation, I stumbled across this video. We can use it as another piece of the being responsible and respectful digital citizens curriculum. We are going to add it to our social responsibility carousel (this will be another post) at the start of the next school year.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Quest for the EduGrail....Empowering digitally respectful citizens

As our district really begins to explore the uses of the digital world to improve educational opportunities, the powers that be are really grappling with the balance between network and data security and allowing students access to all the tools that empower and engage them.

Currently we see pockets of school administrators and teachers finding ways around the restrictions placed on them. This to me serves only to exasperate the situation. In discussions with our district's Tech managers, the countless number of times that students have abused their internet access are used as justification for the pretty heavy handed censorship that the filters our district has purchased provide. To me the solution lies in our ability to educate and empower our students to be respectful and responsible digital citizens. This is part of a greater goal to work towards intrinsically motivated students. Something that I have been calling our EduGrail. The holy grail of education. We have yet to discover a one stop shop solution to student misuse of the internet. Along the way we have found pieces of the puzzle. One such piece is the ideas that stem from "Choice Theory".

Choice Theory (originally called Control Theory) was first coined so by William Glasser in the early 1970's. The mega-paraphrasical version of Choice Theory, would state that all behaviour has purpose and that the purpose is to meet one of five needs. The five needs being freedom, fun, belonging, power and physical survival. Now you take Glasser's work with choice theory and reality therapy, an understanding of a personal quality world and the circle of courage from the First Nations and you get an excellent base of knowledge that Diane Gossen (a former student of the Glasser Institute) has masterfully woven together and called "Restitution".

Restitution has long been thought of as the pay back. However, the Restitution that Gossen teaches is actually a pay forward. She has constructed many strategies to help students be responsible and respectful in the classroom and on the playground. So it only makes sense to work to bring these ideas into the digital world. Gossen's book, "It's All About We" is an important read for all educators. It helps us understand the motivation behind the behaviour and the path to ensuring that if mistakes are made that blame, shame, and punishment are counterproductive. If a child (or anyone for that matter) can repair the relationship that was damaged by the mistake then he/she returns to that community feeling strengthened as does those who's needs were infringed upon. Gossen's ideas are not only for when a mistake is made, but more relevant to this blog post, her ideas serve as an excellent framework for explicitly teaching what it means to be a digitally respectful and responsible citizen. The next several posts will be break down various key concepts from Gossen's resources and how they apply to elementary students using the internet in a responsible and respectful way. Your thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated as it would help shape the conversation. There is nothing better than debate to motivate research.

A caveat to this post. My experience with elementary students using the internet and other digital tools has convinced me that not only do the vast majority of the students use the internet appropriately, but they also are quite savvy when it comes to not being exploited. However, it only takes a minimal number of negative cases to stir up the safety nets. So, really, this is an attempt to create a curriculum that justifies the unfiltered use of the internet to the powers that be.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A New Type of Search Engine

Google has done such an amazing job branding itself. The ease and simplicity of its search engine is spectacular. The challenge faced by educators is how to guide students to use Google in an efficient way. Well what I believe is happening, as it often does, is that the web is morphing to meet the need. New breeds of search engines are being developed. Search engines that endeavour to help the user meta-sort. The following is my experience with three such search engines:

Searchme.com

iTouch meets Google as this search engine allows you to see 1/2 size webpages that match your query. It is currently in public beta. The "new" feature here is the meta sorting that is done for the searcher prior to actually hitting the search button. For example, our grade one students are currently studying butterflies.
As you type in the word butterflies, the search engine provides you with tags to choose from that allow the student to narrow the search. For example, in the case of butterflies, the students are able to narrow the search to the "INSECTS" tag. The extremely visual aspect of the search engine really appeals to the students.


KartOO.com

This is a very interesting concept. KartOO is a metasearch engine with visual display interfaces. When you click on OK, KartOO launches the query to a set of search engines, gathers the results, compiles them and represents them in a series of interactive maps through a proprietary algorithm. Each page displayed in the map is visually linked to the various tags that apply. Again, this allows the user to narrow the search through tags.


Del.icio.us (as a search engine)

The algorithm here is really the number of people who felt this site to be worthy enough to add it to their account. Dollars to donuts this, to me, is the best rating system on the net. The reason I like using del.icio.us as a search engine is because you, not only get a good array of website, but you also end up being able to create a network of people with like interests as you. In addition, if you RSS the particular tag that you are searching, you will continue to get additional search results as people tag good websites.

I have yet to really unearth the algorithm that these search engines use. You can bet that it won't take online commercialism long to figure them out and exploit them to ensure that their product shows up first and/or often. I was showing these to a group of students from grade 1-3 who are in our advanced reading group. We were comparing the various search engines and one of my grade 3 students proceeded to explain to me that if you and your friends create enough accounts on facebook, myspace, various blogs, and various other networking sites and then ensure that they all link to each other you can ensure that when you type your name into Google, you will be at the top of the list. He and his friends couldn't tell me what algorithm meant, but they sure got the concept.

The final piece around searching that is relatively new to the education field is using RSS to extend the life of your search. But this is for another post.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Blogging from F.E.T.C. 2008 Introduces Blogging to my Staff and Students


Even though I knew that the school would be in the capable hands of a great staff, I had great reservations about being away from the school for a whole week. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I blogged the experience and linked that blog to our school web-page. The experience introduced the concept to my staff. It also served as a catalyst to remind staff and students to email me to keep me abreast of the comings and goings of our little school.

In addition to archiving all the web-based resources I learned about, the process of blogging my experiences made me reflect on what I was learning. I was taken aback by the real sense of audience that the comments from our students gave me.

Here is the end result

Web 2.0 Assignment Teaches Efficient Collaboration

Our staff was looking to find out what was the community inventory of technology. So rather than me putting together a survey and sending it home to families, I took advantage of the fact that I get to work with an advanced group of mathematicians. This group of gr. 7 students really enjoy being challenged.

We met in the, soon to be dispersed, computer lab around a table and brainstormed strategies for attacking this problem. First issue was what does a survey look like. So rather than reinvent the wheel, the students jumped onto the internet and began using the boolean searching skills they had just learned the day prior. As each student found good examples of questions that we could use for our technology inventory survey, they posted them to a del.icio.us account that one of the students had created. The rule was that each student had to annotate the link so that the other students could evaluate the value of the link. Once they were satisfied with the variety of survey questions, their homework (over the weekend) was to log onto Google Docs and collectively build a 30 question survey.

Originally, the Google Doc was going to be printed off and sent home, but instead, one of the students was simultaneously typing the questions in to surveymonkey.com as the group was adding them to Google Docs. On Monday, the students presented me with a survey that was both in hardcopy and as a link from our school web-page. All I had to do was send out an email request to the parent-listserve asking them to respond to the survey and bingo bango, surveymonkey collected and collated the data over the next two weeks. In two weeks we had a large enough sample to be able to make some decisions.

Two Ways to Digitize Assessment

I'd thought I'd relaunch my blog with a practical and celebratory post. We have recently purchased 4 new digital cameras for our school. In as of itself, this is no big deal. However, the way that our teachers are beginning to use them has gone a long way in shifting the paradigm of what "integrating technology" looks like.

Photos as reflection prompts
This is a strategy that I used as a teacher before becoming a principal and it has really caught the imagination of our staff. Let me set the task first. Our staff has been discussing ways to reduce the paper use in our school. So a possible numeracy task that we could set up for our intermediate students is to calculate the cost (both financial and environmental) of running a school. A task like this one require that students work in groups. It requires them to identify some possible variable and to work collaboratively to solve for those variables. This endeavor, like many numeracy tasks, provides a relevant reason to play with math. The rub for the educator is how to capture this dynamic process in order to be able to evaluate it. Far too often, due to lack of motivation or simply weak written output skills, students are not able to articulate their process in writing. This is where technology enters the scene. During the class, the educator wanders from group to group snapping relevant photos, capturing key progressions in the students' work. Then simply uploads these photos into a word template, prints off the photos with guiding questions like - What was your group's struggle with at this point (as shown by the photo) in the process? Then prints them off and hands them to the group to reflect on. We have found that because of the photo prompt, students are able to articulate their process in far greater detail, thus allowing educators guide the next days lesson and also to evaluate their students' progress. Even better, one of our teachers created private blogs for a number of his students and posted the digital pictures to the blog and the students from each group could reflect on the photo and also comment on each other's reflections.

Vid clips change group dynamics
Recently our grade 5/6 teacher was looking for a way to improve the focus during literature circles. He decided to use a fish bowl activity. In the past, this activity was extremely contrived. He would choose a group to volunteer to be observed by the rest of the class and then comment on the dynamics of the discussion. Because the group was so self-conscious of their classmates watching, the student learning became canned. Students played roles and the observing students identified issues that had been taught in a previous lesson. So rather that do the fish-bowl activity, our teacher popped around to each group and digitized 30 second clips of each group during their discussions. Some groups were aware of the camera, but once this became routine practice, all the groups ignored the camera. The teacher was then able to conference with each group, showing them their group discussion and providing them with feedback on their group dynamics. The change in the level of engagement and respect for opinions has been astronomical. I have been chatting with this teacher about using VoiceThread.com or some other form of networkable application to have the students archive comments about the video clips and have these interactions as part of their online digital portfolio.