It’s Important to Stand

Last week I surprised myself by responding to a scholarly discussion on a Brainstorm article in a publication for higher education. When I was in graduate school, my professors encouraged us to continue a path of “scholarly discourse.” One professor in particular told us to embrace the mantra of “fearless curiosity.”

With that in mind, I responded to a wish articulated in comment 4 for a partnership with real on-the-ground teachers, who are surely too busy for such things. Despite the implied invitation, I was pretty sure what would happen, and it did. Two comments were pretty sharp: Go away! At the time, I shyly used one of my pen names, Kaceedog. Now I wish I had followed the advise of many educational bloggers and proudly used my name.

I thought about honoring the “professors only” sign, but then I considered the nature of online publications that ask for comments and that wonder about a topic I have researched, studied at length, and am using. I took the dive.

I weigh in again with some of the following points:

  • The future belongs to the student who has a vision of more than facts to be reported, but a vision of being able to ask and answer deep questions that relate the information to their world—and that especially includes the lessons of history.
  • While it is absolutely true that students must first learn discrete facts in order to have the necessary base, they must also be able to think with the information—to detect an argument that reflects bias or to locate information to support their own unique arguments. They obviously cannot analyze or synthesize unless they first understand and know. I was responding to the issue of students who refuse to think, who copy and paste, plagiarizing freely, and think they’ve gotten the teacher off their backs. If the same students are given problem-based tasks which challenge them to answer novel questions (those requiring deeper thought and not found on buy-an-essay sites), they are more likely to respond to the content with creativity.
  • As far as the critical thinking of the adolescent, having raised three of my own to productive adulthood, I thoroughly agree with you that the abstract thinking abilities are only emerging. (The insurance companies have know about this longer that education and science combined!) That doesn’t mean that we should leave it on the backburner. Just because they’ll be closer to 25 before true judgment kicks in, they are still emerging. Ever notice the very young child who wants desperately to help, but is told s/he’s too young? Just like that child, adolescents need and thrive on age appropriate cognitive challenges.
  • A number of writers are suggesting that we’re leaving the age of information and entering the conceptual age. Any teacher or professor who limits their students to information retrieval and manipulation will let that student down. We may discuss all we want. There was an age when the automobile and electricity divided the generations. I believe that now technology will divide the generations. We already have the digital natives and those of us trying to catch up.
  • Technology remains a tool, not an end in itself. It’s not magic or destructive in itself. It is the tool of the future. We can learn to use it creatively to challenge our students, or we can call it bad names and use it poorly; but technology is changing the way the pre-kindergarten child approaches learning and the graduate student accomplishes learning.
  • One thing is for sure: Learning how to learn and create new understanding in a community of motivated learners is not found on any standardized test—but it is one of the most important skills in life. (My thanks to Vicki Davis for a rewording of her comment elsewhere in this blog!)

I understand special interest groups and the need to exchange ideas with like-minded individuals to explore and develop common goals. We do, however, need to remember that online publication is not restricted unless it is password protected.

When we limit ourselves to our own backyard, we hear only our own beliefs and agendas. It’s important for educators to learn what different groups are thinking about the same topics–to appreciate different perspectives. It’s tough to take a punch, but it feels GREAT to get back up and still feel confident in your beliefs. I recommend diving into the fray of scholarly discourse; just don’t be afraid of a little dirt.

We will always run the risk of those who do not appreciate our thoughts; but then again, we just might find a kindred spirit, or challenge another person to grow, or, best of all, wind up growing a bunch ourselves!

When in doubt, stand and be counted. ;-)

Thing 23: Web 2.0 Reflections

This summer I have stretched, groaned, celebrated, and learned an incredible amount about applying Web 2.0 tools well in professional growth and in working with my students. I’ve always wanted to challenge my students to think deeply and to learn how to learn, not just regurgitate facts they’ll forget by next week.

Anyone who has taught for the last ten years knows that today’s students really do learn and approach communication differently than their teachers typically do. Not only can this cause a gap in student-teacher interfacing, but it also can cause students to feel that “old style” pedagogy just isn’t relevant to them.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn something new, exciting, and really relevant-and that especially means using technology to engage and challenge learners. The Web 2.0 world of the 21st century learner is fast paced, interactive, and potentially overwhelming if you don’t understand how to organize, evaluate, and deal creatively with the mass of information. Furthermore, the opportunity that Web 2.0 gives to create images, conceptual organizers, presentations, videos, collaborative documents and projects, wikis, podcasts, and more is staggering.

Teachers who model and teach their students to be responsible and considerate Web 2.0 users and creators will help equip those students for their future careers. As important as skills may be, though, it is the discussion of ethics and of mutual respect and computer etiquette that will help today’s students become the leaders needed for tomorrow.

I’ve learned so much this summer that it’s hard to pick only two top discoveries, but I’ll try. First, Delicious and tags are revolutionizing how I collect and search for resources. I don’t know which I love more-a way to access and organize my favorite sites from any computer, the ability to locate information quickly, or the ability to beg my friends to share their Delicious lists!

In terms of planning the year for my students, we will collaboratively create wiki pages to show comprehension and learning, present images, documents, and music from historic periods, embed student-made presentations and videos which answer open-ended essential questions, and extend learning through an assortment of student-created activities. Brainstorming, collaborative creation, negotiation, team work, deeper critical thinking–well, it sounds like student-centered learning to me!

I find, though, that I’ve changed this summer in a way other than simply learning how to apply 2.0 tools in education. I think I’ve become more deliberate and confident in my considerations of instructional technology.

Yesterday I surprised myself. A friend sent me an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education (think university professors), and I made a comment (#13). Me…7th grade teacher of English and honors American history. I weighed words with PhDs, and I felt confident.

Not arrogant. Oh no! I don’t know even part of everything and I never will–especially at the rate that the world of 2.0 is changing! No, I simply felt that I had a voice, and that my thoughts were valid and a part of a whole picture.

Isn’t that what we hope to raise our students to see–not one or two memorized trees, but the whole forest of possibilities?

Thing 22: Ning

This is definitely the age of social networking. It’s been around a long time in the face-to-face format, but now cyberspace is the place to connect, learn, create, and share.

My school has developed a Ning, complete with groups, forums–well, everything you could wing in a Ning. I’m currently in several groups, and I already have ideas for a few more groups.

One part of our Ning deals with updating curricular scope and sequence information for all the various grades and classes. I uploaded material for two classes this summer; and I have visions of updating as I go through the year, adding links to resources, adjusting essential questions or time lines, or adding some new technology ideas from our K12 Learning 2.0 class. The Ning makes the document dynamic–living and responsive to updating. It’s usable, relevant and a ready resource.

Some of us want to learn more about the technology we want to use in our classes. For example, I’m in a podcasting group, but I really want to see if there’s interest in a class wiki group. That is something I really want to use in all my classes this year. By allowing colleagues into the wikis and sharing goals, challenge, and triumphs in our Ning group, I think we could all become proficient faster than we each could by ourselves.

The wikis that I explored for Thing 22 were all for educators. In 7 Things You Should Know About Ning, Educause made a good case for having student Nings for academic learning communities. I could see how their examples would work in high school, but I was struggling with the idea of middle grade maturity. Then I found Schools and Online Social Networking by Nancy Willard, educator, lawyer, and specialist in “issues of youth behavior when using information communication technologies.” Although student Nings have the benefit of teachers instructing and modeling safe and responsible Internet behavior, there are definite supervisory and maturational risks with youth.

I plan to use Moodle, which is a virtual online classroom with some of the interactive characteristics of a Ning, but not quite so much freedom. I’ll use Google Docs and my class wiki for collaborative activities. I like the ability to know who has written or uploaded what, when. When 7th graders know they really can and will be held accountable for their actions (no anonymity), they rise to the occasion beautifully!

As I become comfortable and a bit more seasoned with our faculty Ning, maybe I’ll relent in the future and invite my students to my own. We’ll see.

Thing 7C: RSS News!

Vicki Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher, continues to write one of my favorite feeds. On July 17th, she commented on a Google blog article, “Our Googley Advice to Students: Major in Learning.’” Vicki’s response to the Google article was so apt that techLearning had picked it up by July 19th.

All of the above (Google, Cool Cat, and techLearning) pointed to the necessity of teaching students to move beyond routine problem-solving to become successful non-routine problem-solvers. This, of course, requires teachers to push students beyond fact retrieval and point and click education. Analytical reasoning, communication skills, willingness to experiment, the ability to collaborate and be a team player, and passion and leadership are the goals of today’s top flight education for today’s and tomorrow’s business world.

I will probably print a banner with a quotation from the Google article for all of my students who ask why I make them write: “…understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.” No matter where we are–science, math, history, business, medicine, law, gardening, for heaven’s sake–if we can’t communicate our great ideas and solutions to others effectively, that information falls short of its mark.

Another sentence from the Google article that really caught my eye was “But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity. Cool Cat Teacher pounced on the same sentence. Engaged learning stimulates (and is stimulated by) creative thought, and any challenge worth the effort requires a good bit of tenacity. Wow. The goals of education and of business really are the same!

I’ve always valued problem-solving, decision-making, and higher critical thinking skills in my classes. I know that 7th graders are a bit wobbly in their emerging abstract thinking skills, but I also know that a little scaffolding and creative empowerment helps those new skills flourish! Learning how to learn and learning how to think are two of my top goals for each of my students. (Small wonder I love Vicki Davis, alias Cool Cat Teacher, so much!)

Thing 21: Pageflakes

For every 7th grade student who’s ever said, “I couldn’t find it; I lost the URL; I couldn’t remember how to get to it; I couldn’t remember what we were supposed to do, look at, read, create, study, or anything else–there’s Pageflake.

It will take me some time to gather all of the resources that I’d like to embed and link for my language arts classes, with another page for my honors American history classes, but I can imaging a number of ways to create great resource centers.

With a presidential vote in November, I can envision an election Pagecast with feeds from conservative and liberal US newspapers/services (for comparison), as well as international feeds to see how the process is viewed around the world. Feeds from the Democratic and Republic headquarters would also provide party and platform differences. I can’t even begin to imagine what feeds I might find in terms of polls, predictions, and election results.

I can imagine a pagecast on the Olympics, complete with RSS feeds by country (US being one of the definites, as well as China as the host city), individual sports and events, medal count, individual athletes, personal interest stories, videos and podcasts from events, history of China and of the Olympics, and on the list would go.

My language arts classes would love the Pagecast I’d create for them: calendar with due dates, dictionary, advanced Google search, Quizlet portal, Library Thing portal, school database portal, topical links, portals to view Google presentations, links to and other writing support sites, and much more! It would be the one stop resource center.

It’s easy to use Pageflakes. I just need a bunch of time to get myself organized! Meanwhile, the ideas keep coming….

Thing 20: Google Docs

I’ve known about Google Docs, but I haven’t really stopped to consider how I might use the program with my students and colleagues. The program is really easy to use. In a matter of minutes, I made a collaborative online document that my language arts students can use to create a class database of recreational reading books that they briefly describe and recommend. The document will not only inform students about books that their friends have enjoyed, but it will also provide a bit of motivation for each student to read and complete an entry for three books–a reading party with all the frills. We’ll see how this plays out with my lively 7th graders!

I can envision a number of other ways that I might employ Google Docs. Not only might my students create review tools, presentations, and learning journals collaboratively, but I might also work with my fellow teachers for each of my preparations to co-create quizzes, presentations, study notes, resource data bases–well, just about anything! Not only will collaboration be quicker and easier for my students, but for me, too!

Thing 19: Video!

What a wealth of videos are available–from the “sometimes-needs-to-be-filtered” YouTube to the amazing TeacherTube! Although I found a number of YouTube videos which would be helpful, such as Slave Catchers and Resistors and Crime and Punishment in Colonial America, the hassle of getting these videos into a format that I can use in my classroom might slow me down.

TeacherTube, on the other hand, is an awesome treasure to be used by teachers–for students and teachers. In addition to professional topics, I fell in love with the American Institute for History Education channel. From the Underground Railroad to the Transcontinental Railroad, I found excellent short videos that I can use to illustrate major issues and jump start interest in new units.

Who knows, I may get so excited that I have my students submitting their Photo Story projects for TeacherTube!

Thing 18: My Podcast

…And now, the podcast you’ve all been waiting for: Podcasting in Language Arts! Grab the popcorn!

Thing 17: Podcasting

I am a confirmed visual learner. I need to listen carefully to audiovisual presentations, and audio only presentations are a struggle for me. Thus, I am a bit reserved about podcasting.

In exploring the directories, I felt the greatest success with the NPR Podcast Directory, where I found The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, and the Educational Podcast Network, which led me to the Colonial Williamsburg site, both complete with a series of podcasts. The Jim Crow selections were especially interesting because they were descriptions of life during the Jim Crow Era given by real people who lived through the time and circumstances. Their value, in my opinion, lay in the authenticity of their speakers.

I cannot see myself having extensive time to write and create podcasts for my students on a regular basis. I can see offering my students the opportunity to showcase their learning and writing in a new format. There are a number of 7th graders who are somewhat intimidated by the mechanics of writing who might warm to the idea of sharing through their voices.

Thing 16: Library Thing

Library Thing is absolutely amazing. This is social networking for the book lover. By entering your own titles of books you own/have read/adore/hate, you are able to connect with thousands of people who also know the book and author. Actually, you don’t have to enter a thing–you’re free to search anything you like to come up with information and reviews on a book in question, suggested books if you liked that one, books to avoid if you liked that one–a treasure trove of information from real readers about real books.

I was delighted that one of my long time favorites, Katherine by Anya Seton, has a following, as well as other recommended books for me to pursue. There are not many of us that know about this medieval commoner who became the Duchess of Lancaster. OK, I’m impressed.

One thing that bothered me, but I acknowledge that I was not at all surprised given human nature, were the biblio-snobs who had to wither authors and books that have won the hearts of millions. The site, however, was definitely fair-minded in giving these reviewers and opposing reviewers room to write and persuade. Frankly, it’s a bit funny to read someone who takes him/herself so seriously and then read other reviewers who show such a love for the reading experience evoked by the book in question.

That observation aside, I can see how I will refer to Library Thing to learn about a book in question, to get reading suggestions, to learn about authors and their bodies of work.