Over the past two years, I have been inspired by the creative activities, sharing, and reflective feedback of members of an important learning community. Digital Storytelling (or DS106) is a free, open online course hosted at the University of Mary Washington. It is an unique learning environment. One may join and leave whenever one wants while becoming engaged in learning to “tell digital stories” through more than 400 creative assignments and related components.
For example, today’s “Daily Create” #541 challenged participants to “Draw something abstract out of straight lines.”
My creation below, requires one to “read between the lines”:
This design reflects, in many ways, the actions of my personal learning network or PLN. Like the straight-line components, my network and support team works in the background with little fanfare. In fact, “They make me look good!” Through a variety of social networking apps (including old-fashioned email), they recommend and reflect on new ideas while renewing my passion for learning and sharing in K-12 education.
As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To all my PLN “giants”, be they students, teachers, family, or friends, I thank you all for caring and sharing.
Technology empowers students. Certainly this brief sentence contains three important words. However, when creating this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I remembered “three little words” that will help reduce teacher stress while empowering students. It is recommended that teachers start responding to student questions, for which they don’t know the answer, with the three little words … “I don’t know”.
Teacher Feature #24 – Stephen Heppel – December, 2012
Undoubtedly, for some teachers, such a confession will be difficult. Especially if they have prided themselves on always knowing everything about their particular subject area(s). However, with technology invading our homes and our schools, it will be impossible, for even the most tech-minded individual, to always have the right answer. Therefore, I recommend that each teacher become more transparent and acknowledge students more frequently with “I don’t know … but if you find out, I’d love for you to share it with me”. With such feedback, the individual pupil is empowered as the traditional teacher’s and student’s roles are reversed.
In order to survive the barrage of questions posed by inquisitive Early Years students, some teachers direct their young students to “Ask three, before me.” What an amazing catch-phrase! This strategy asks that students search for answers in other ways as opposed to always relying on the teacher. Not only does it take pressure off the teacher, it also encourages students to learn new problem-solving techniques. Teachers, who are hoping to infuse technology into their classrooms, cannot know all the myriad of details about each software application. Neither can they know how to accomplish all tasks on each particular gadget in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) classroom environment. Rather, empower the students to collaborate and problem solve as a community of learners. Such action will benefit them when they are employed in the real world.
I was very lucky to be exposed to such a “real world” learning experience when I enrolled in the popular “Digital Storytelling” course offered by the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This massive, open, online course (or MOOC), affectionately known as “DS106” (www.ds106.us), ran for 15 weeks and exposed me to the realities of learning in the 21st century. No, there were no recommended textbooks nor required software applications. Neither were there specific handouts on how to create GIFs or a special effects using Photoshop or Gimp. Although the instructors worked hard, they did not take ownership for creating up-to-date instructions on how to accomplish a task using different versions of Photoshop. Rather students were empowered to search Google for “Photoshop tutorials” or communicate with others taking the course to learn how certain tasks were best accomplished. Furthermore, students were encouraged to share their creative assignments providing “behind the scenes” insights into how their projects were accomplished. Following the “ABCs” of DS106, students were encouraged to “Always Be Creating” and “Always Be Commenting” on other students’ work so that a true sharing and learning community could be fostered.
If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.
John Dewey said it best … “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob children of tomorrow.” This message definitely resonates with me as a new year fast approaches. During this holiday season, teachers might consider pedagogical resolutions that they might adopt during the new year. Perhaps some of the following questions might cause you to reflect and change:
Can you move towards harnessing technology in your classroom?
How can you become less of a gatekeeper of knowledge and more of a facilitator of learning?
Are you willing to be more honest with students by saying “I don’t know”?
Would you be willing to explore one new educational application each month?
Could you connect with other educators to form a Personal Learning Network?
Will you encourage students to explore creative ways that technology can empower them?
As the year 2012 comes to an end, I want to wish all my readers and friends a warm Seasons Greetings and finish this post with three little words … “Happy New Year”.
My son sent me this thought-provoking illustration:
It seems like only yesterday that I envied friends who had new car stereos similar to the top image. True, they could now play their favourite CD album while cruising in the car. More importantly, in my mind, was the fact that the car stereo hardware could now play music in mp3 formats. Those, who were somewhat technologically savvy, could create “compilation” CDs containing favourite individual mp3 music tracks from a wide variety of entertainers. I still remember friends who had big binders of “compilation” CDs under the driver’s seat and, when you got into their car, their first question was “Do you have a favourite band?” or “Is there a music genre that you particularly like?”.
Today as Steve Jobs stated … “Your entire music library fits in your pocket”. Whether it be on any portable media player or smart phone, today’s youth just want to know where’s the cable to plug in their personal device into the car’s speaker system.
In fact, even this sought-after cable may be soon disappear with the following technological modification:
I conclude this post with a question to my teaching colleagues. With the rapid development of technology and with so many of our youth “connected” to music, shouldn’t we, as educators, explore how we too can become better connected?
All educators need to belong to a Personal Learning Network (or PLN). I am so much richer because I am able to connect, either in person or online, with like-minded colleagues who so willingly share and/or provide constructive feedback.
Knowing that I was in the process of writing a blog post about the upcoming “Pay It Forward Day” on April 26th, I needed to find a video that demonstrated the power of the pay it forward process. Six months ago, someone had sent me a link to a YouTube video suggesting that I might enjoy its message. I recall that it started with a young boy who falls off a skateboard onto the sidewalk. A construction worker takes the time to see if the young lad is injured before continuing on his way. The boy appreciates the caring gesture and pays it forward by helping carry groceries across the street for an elderly woman. This woman passes alongside someone who is looking for change to put into a parking meter and she provides the coins, and this “good deed” process continues throughout the video. Each recipient of these small acts of kindness pays it forward in turn. Unfortunately at the time, I did not bookmark the video or save this YouTube URL for later use.
As I started writing the former blog post, I remembered that I had seen a YouTube video that would be a great resource to stimulate class discussion on the pay it forward process. However, no matter what search terms I used to try to retrieve this video, I was unsuccessful.
However, at the end of our formal MAETL meeting, we have a “Short Snappers” agenda item, where anyone can share quick tips or web site resources that might benefit others in the group.
During “Short Snappers”, I used a process call “crowd sourcing” when I described the video that I was hoping to find to members in my professional learning network.
Some of my colleagues had seen the video and thought that it might have been part of a commercial.
However, within three minutes Joan Badger, a Curriculum Coordinator with St. James-Assiniboia School Division, had searched YouTube and had located the following powerful “pay it forward” video. I urge readers to follow this link to see how they might incorporate this powerful YouTube video into their “Pay It Forward” activities:
The purpose of this post is two-fold. Although I am reflecting on both an article and a video by Gardner Campbell as part of my DS106 online course, I also want to introduce regular readers to the concept of a “Personal Cyberinfrastructure” that is definitely going to empower University students and, in time, perhaps even our own high school students.
I will reflect on Gardner Campbell’s ideas by reacting to the following three questions:
1. Why do people not want a bag of gold?
For all readers to gain a better understanding of Gardner Campbell’s “bag of gold” question, you must, at least, view the first 3:30 minutes of his above YouTube video. Furthermore, all readers will be particularly impressed with the talents of Tim Owens, who took this portion of Gardner’s audio track and, using the kinetic typography animation technique, created a very powerful Vimeo video called “Bag of Gold”.
Based on my past experience as an Education Technology Consultant in the K-12 environment, I believe that educators may reject a “bag of gold”, particularly a bag of new, “technology-related gold” for the following reasons:
Educators today are overwhelmed with all the additional tasks they are requested to do over and above their normal teaching duties. Hence any additional tasks, which may be perceived as requiring more effort and time commitment, are simply refused or ignored.
There is not enough time to teach the prescribed curriculum, let alone learn how to integrate technology.
The benefits are not perceived to be worth the time investment.
With new technology, many teachers are no longer the “experts”. This imbalance can cause some educators to feel threatened when teaching students who are now more experienced in their own technology-rich environment.
Some senior teachers may have lost their motivation to learn new things outside their own particular subject area(s) and may be quite content to maintain the status quo.
Too often new “bags of technology gold” may exhibit “hiccups” (e.g. loss on Internet connection) where one has to, not only plan a technology-related activity but also, prepare a non-technology alternative to reinforce curricular concepts.
One “bag of gold” is not enough; some teachers require a “bag of gold (e.g. computer) for each student, before they are willing to consider integrating technology into classroom practice.
It is easier to reject and pass the “bag of gold” on to a colleague, who can become the school “expert” rather than becoming a “risk-taker” and learn to use technology with one’s students.
2. What is a digital facelift?
I interpret a digital facelift as adopting a new approach that has the potential to be innovative while one fails to take advantage of these new opportunities because such individuals are so entrenched in their old ways.
For example, many readers have witnessed the short “broken iPad” video that clearly demonstrates how a young child can become somewhat confused when the new skills, which they have acquired, no longer apply to the “old technology”. However, I am very concerned with a limited number of teachers who continue to apply old skills to new technology.
To help the reader better understand this situation, I will illustrate a rather rare scene that I have witnessed. Several years ago, some schools in my division were purchasing interactive whiteboards. These interactive devices displayed, through a projector, the software application that was on the teacher’s computer. The potential for engagement was the interactivity that occurred when a student used the whiteboard “pen” or his/her finger to activate or drag elements on the screen.
Unfortunately, I did witness one situation where the potential student engagement was forfeited because the teacher only seemed to recognize the similarity in the word “board” between “chalk board” and “white board”. This individual simply used the whiteboard as a projection screen and if a classroom whiteboard activity was merited, no students were allowed near the board as this new technology was reserved exclusively for the teacher who continued to teach “from the front of the class”. I can only hope that with time and experience, this teacher relinquished control and allowed the class to become engaged in their own learning through “hands-on” interaction with this powerful technology.
Gardner Campbell shared three important recursive steps that educators and students can take to avoid having a digital facelift. These practices are steps that we as teachers normally carry out but they can be amplified using technology or our by infusion through our provincial Literacy with Information and Communication Technology (LwICT) continuum. These steps include:
Narrating – Having both teachers and students “think out loud” as they tell the story of a particular subject area. For some this process might be similar to blogging.
Curating – How do you arrange your “progress portfolio” so that you can find resources and references quickly? True, students may choose to keep all their assignments in a traditional notebook. However, more and more students and teachers will begin using software applications to scan text and store data online for organizing and later retrieval.
Sharing – For me this practice is the most important. Constructive feedback from peers, together with a wider global audience, can motivate students in ways not possible in the traditional one dimensional student-teacher interaction. When students and teachers share their portfolios and resources online, everyone benefits through “leveraged learning”. Gardner quotes a colleague who states that “meaning happens when two people connect”.
In fact, teachers are slowly beginning to take advantage of the connections and learning that is afforded through the online communications of a Personal Learning Network.
3. What are the potential benefits/drawbacks of Personal Cyberinfrastructures?
I believe in Gardner Campbell’s proposal that first year university students should purchase their own domain name and start creating their life’s portfolio online. This is not just an idea but it is one that is put into practice by students at Mary Washington University who are enrolled in the first year Digital Storytelling DS106 course. True, for some it can be a challenge to think of an available domain name that is both professional and reflective of their passions. For example, I would have preferred if my domain was “www.lifelonglearners.com” but because this domain was already owned, I had to insert hyphens in my version of this name.
The benefit of creating and reflecting through blogs in one’s own domain is that it creates a digital footprint which can be a powerful learning tool. One only has to look back at the various bench marks entries to witness the learning and connections that have been made as a student progresses through university.
Writing and reflecting are a powerful way of synthesizing lessons and lecture information. Furthermore, online research together with RSS feed information can be blended into one’s online notes to add quality and perspective. University students who do this faithfully and share such resources through a PLN or study groups can create a formidable resource for completing assignments and studying for exams.
However, I do have concerns for individual students who are less mature in their outlook or perhaps do not value their privacy as much as I think they should. Imagine the less mature students who, in their rush to pick a domain, choose one similar to the “Top 10 Worst Domain Names”. Furthermore, some less mature students might choose a domain name that seems “cute”, when viewed through the eyes of a first year student at a frat party but may lack the same appeal when viewed, several years later, by the HR department of potential employers.
In addition, I do think that there are students today who share “too much information” through social networking such as Facebook. Some do not hesitate to tell their “friends” (and potential thieves) that they “will be away from my home for all of July while I travel through Europe”.
There is no doubt in my mind that students need to be cautioned about selecting appropriate domain names and writing blog comments in a professional manner without surrendering their privacy. Gardner’s recommendation is that students might learn about aspects of blogging, wikis, web 2.0 applications, and privacy from faculty and advisers during the first year in university. An important celebratory event would be the purchase of an appropriate domain name and the application of such wise council as students begin creating online blogs and portfolios.
To those readers who think that Gardner Campbell’s recommendations are strictly theoretical, I suggest that they investigate the DS106 environment and view blogs of those who are enrolled for university credit. One will be amazed at the learning and support afforded these students as they become engaged and reflect on their learning journey.
For readers who might think that this post is focusing strictly on university students, I encourage you to examine Gardner Campbell’s ideas and think how these ideas might apply to senior years’ students in our K-12 environment. Perhaps there are high school students that you know who want to use web 2.0 tools and blogging to document their learning journey. Imagine the positive impact that you can have now and in their future if you provide help in selecting personal domain names and concerns regarding personal online privacy.
In conclusion, I think that we, as educators, need to make our own learning more transparent to our students. Furthermore, we should welcome the opportunity to learn from, and with, our students. I believe that Gardner Campbell articulated our next important steps when he stated at the end of his “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” paper that:
“… we must start with individual learners. Those of us who work with students must guide them to build their own personal infrastructures, to embark on their own web odysseys. And yes, we must be ready to receive their guidance as well.”
[The Teachable Moment: I wanted to reward my regular readers who made it this far in my lengthy post. Jim Groom (aka Reverend), who is one of the amazing DS106 facilitators, recently shared this time-sharing tip. As an educator, who has access to YouTube videos, have you ever wanted to be able to quickly show your students the educational "nugget" without having to watch the entire video? If so, Jim recommended the Deep Links "YouTube Help" document. Essentially, one can append a time position "qualifier" to the end of any YouTube video URL or address. For example, if you wanted your students to focus on the message starting at the eight minute and 23 second position, one would simply add to the end of the YouTube video URL: #t=8m23s To demonstrate this facility, I will list below two focal points in Gardner Campbell's YouTube video. I trust you will find this time-saving strategy to be of benefit.
Gardner Campbell's "No Digital Facelifts: ..." YouTube "deep links" video entry points:
Bag of Gold:
Start position at: 2 minutes and 3 seconds
Three steps to help avoid the “digital facelift”:
Start position at: 14 minutes and ten seconds
To verify that these “deep links” work as indicated, readers must copy the address between the square brackets and paste this string (without brackets) into one’s browser address field. This process will start the YouTube video at the selected entry point rather than at the original starting position.]
My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.
As the current year draws to a close, I wanted to pay tribute to all the students, educators, and friends who have helped me over the years. However, if I were to try to name them all, the list would be lengthy and I would run the very real risk of forgetting to acknowledge someone. Rather, I thought … perhaps I might write about the importance of my PLN and how it has helped me become a better educator. I must admit that when I first heard the acronym PLN, I thought that it might refer to support nurses who had not as yet earned their R.N. degree. However, over time I realized that my Personal Learning Network (or PLN) would become a very important, and key, ingredient in my life-long learning.
As an educator, I have always learned best when preparing a lesson for students or a workshop for teachers. I wondered if there was a way to pay tribute to my PLN through a video remix project that other educators might be able to adapt for use with their students.
I thought that perhaps I might consider writing a song and incorporate it into a music video as a tribute to my PLN. You may recall that I had a brief fling at song-writing when I created my “ICT-rap”, which was shared in my earlier blog post entitled “Reflect, Review and Rap”. After listening to this creation, you can perhaps understand why I’m still an educator as opposed to a celebrity who signs million dollar record contracts. However the task, at that time, was to illustrate how students might use technology and their creative talents to summarize and review a unit of study through a unique and engaging process.
Over the past year, I have been exposed to two different creative musical videos that have made a dramatic impression on me. Recently, I viewed the powerful and professional song “It Starts With Me” that Ryan Miller and the staff and students from Stevenson School created to promote the Digital We venture. Earlier this year, I also remember being motivated by Dean Shareski’s inspirational musical birthday tribute “Happy Birthday Alec Couros”, where he facilitated a unique collaboration of individuals who thanked Alec “for being a friend”. On reflection, I realize that I was first exposed to both of these remarkable musical celebrations through two different talented educators, who regularly share and are part of my PLN.
Realizing that I do not have the creative, musical talents of Ryan Miller, nor the video expertise that Dean Shareski demonstrates, I felt that I might try to tell a musical story and pay tribute to my PLN in a somewhat different manner.
YouTube Video: “My PLN – A Teacher’s Treasure” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajN9l2lGqrQ
(For those who cannot view YouTube videos,
alternate video files are available for download at end of this post.)
To help educators adapt this musical video project idea for use with students in their classrooms, I will briefly identify the basic components and then provide additional information to explain each step in more detail.
Pick a theme
Create/find a tune
Compose lyrics to tell your story
Blend lyrics and melody into a song
Select Creative Commons images
Tell your story through technology
Share your creation
1. Pick a theme
I was motivated to pay tribute to students and teachers, and particularly, those in my PLN. On the other hand, students might decide to create a unit overview or showcase their musical and creative talents in a subject-related project. With the recent enthusiasm generated by Manitoba’s “We Day” and the “Digital We” contest, students may wish to demonstrate how they can make a change in their school, community or the world. I would encourage students to work in teams of two or three to collaborate on creating a song or music video.
2. Create/find a tune Admittedly, I am not a musical composer nor am I a great singer. Although I could perhaps create a tune with freeware musical loops, I considered attempting to find a melody that I could remix for my PLN project. With the festive season fast approaching, I wondered if there were any traditional Christmas carols whose tunes were now in the public domain. Melodies that were composed in the 18th or 19th century are no longer protected by copyright as they would now be in the public domain. In fact, I searched for “public domain music” and found the following list of “Public Domain Popular Songs Hits 1900 – 1920“. I was delighted to find that the “Colonel Bogey March” was listed in the public domain. Further research indicated that this popular tune was composed in 1914 by Lieutenant F.J. Ricketts, who as a British army bandmaster, created marches under the pseudonym Kenneth J. Alford. Older readers may remember this tune as it was whistled by British prisoners of war in the 1957 movie entitled “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. Perhaps viewing this movie’s trailer will jog one’s memory.
Teachable Moment: I had decided on this popular melody, which was free of U.S. copyright (or so I thought) because it was first composed before 1922. I found “The Colonel Bogey March“, played by the U.S. Navy Band, and downloaded the tune as an .mp3 file. Now that I had my tune component completed, I started creating lyrics and having fun as I created a story that I planned to share with students and teachers. In fact, I completed my musical video and had it converted to a YouTube format and starting writing this blog post when things started to unravel. First, I learned, upon a more in depth investigation, that Canadian copyright states that if the works were published before 1923, public domain occurs 50 years following the death of the composer. On the other hand, in England and the European Union, the works are protected under copyright for 70 years following the death of the composer. Since F.J. Ricketts passed away in 1945, the copyright in England would still be in effect for another four years and his march would only enter the public domain in 2015. However, what I failed to identify, during my initial brief investigation was that these past stipulations of works created before 1923, with public domain status occurring after 50 or 70 years following the composer’s death, apply only to music, lyrics and sheet music publications. In fact, Public Domain Info states that “there are NO sound recordings in the Public Domain in the USA and all sound recordings will remain under copyright until 2067.
I share my misfortune with students and educators so that you will not make this same mistake that I have in trying to “Find a Tune”. Rather, I urge students to avoid making music videos with popular songs (or even “old” songs that were created before 1923). Use royalty-free music that can be legally download from sites such as ccMixter or Jamendo or better yet, create your own tunes and demonstrate your creativity.
3. Compose lyrics to tell your story
Whenever I write poetry, I like to have the words in my verses rhyme appropriately. Likewise, when one uses a known or familiar melody, there is a tendency to want to follow the designated rhyme scheme. Often, I will hum the song to myself as I try a combination of words. Sometimes, I find it is better to play the .wav or .mp3 tune while composing lyrics, so that my words match the proper tempo and beat. For example, when trying to rhyme with the word “share”, I would go through the alphabet in order and list all possible rhyming words such as “bear”, “care”, “dare”, “fair”, etc. This rather time-consuming process was reduced considerably when I found the following two, indispensable rhyming tool web sites:
4. Blend lyrics and melody into a song
Although Macintosh users will favour GarageBand as a popular music creation tool, I use the Audacity freeware audio editor which is available for Linux, Macintosh and Windows computers. If you are planning to use a previously created melody or a downloaded musical track, I recommend that Windows users set the following Audacity preference. Start Audacity, click on the “Edit” menu, and select “Preferences”. Under the “Audio I/O” tab, make certain to check off the option “Play other tracks while recording new one” and then press the “OK” button. This simple setting will allow users to listen to the background musical tune through earphones, while they sing and record the new lyrics or vocal track. Once the composition is blended, students can exhibit their creativity through remixing and adding a variety of effects to their musical creation. I’d recommend that students who create and share a song, also share the lyrics. An accompanying lyric sheet not only helps all audience members recognize all the words when listening but also helps listeners appreciate the the lyrical message and creativity demonstrated in the song-writing process.
5. Select Creative Commons images to support your story (as required)
Although some students will be quite satisfied with the creation of a song, there will be others who want to blend images with their song to create the popular “music video”. In fact, pictures add so much interest to the story that I recommend students select Flickr images with Creative Commons licenses to enhance their message. It is recommended that teachers:
For example, to find the picture of the two people at the right, I entered the words “sharing hot dog” (without quotes) in the top search field on the Flickr “Advanced Search” page. I then checked off the “Photos/Videos” media type. Lastly, and most important, I checked off the bottom “Creative Commons” filter by selecting the two qualifiers to “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” and to “Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon” since I might possibly alter or remix the selected image.
I realize that student use of Flickr may be blocked by some school divisions. However, I would hope that educators would review, with students, the Creative Commons license types, how to search for such images, and stress that all images included in a video should be properly cited. Students who become engaged in such a project will use computers at home to search for Creative Commons images. Furthermore, if students plan to enter their music video in the “Digital We” contest (which closes March 14, 2012) and share their creativity, it is important that all components of the video be “free of copyright violations”.
A technique that I use whenever I am searching for possible images to include in a story is to use a word-processor to identify both potential images with their corresponding URL addresses. For example, if I think that I might use the above image, I would add it to my image list as “Couple Sharing Hot Dog: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimncris/2507099421/”. I can assure you that this process saves a great deal of time, particularly if you have already included a picture in your story and are now trying to find it again in order to provide the address link in the video “Credits”. Better to identify the picture with its source address and not use it, than waste valuable time attempting to locate the credit link later.
6. Tell your story through technology Once students have picked a theme and identified the audio and image components, they can then begin the assembly and blending of components to tell their story. Students, today, can tell their story through a variety of applications. Although I used PowerPoint, with specific, timed slide transitions, Alan Levine shares a powerful resource called “50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story“. Alan, not only provides an alphabetical list with links to 50+ storytelling applications, he also organizes them by story categories. Teachers and students will find this resource to be very useful.
7. Share your creation with others
I strongly believe in “leveraged learning”. By this I mean that we all learn and improve, by looking at, and examining, projects or stories that others have created. For example, I decided to include my refrain “1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … Learning everyday helps me survive … ” after I saw Ryan Miller’s video “It Starts With Me”. Ryan’s students chanted “1, 2, 3, 4 … I won’t sit back anymore … ” and I thought that this refrain added impact to their music video, so I adapted this idea. Likewise, students leverage and improve on tasks and projects when they have an opportunity to view similar endeavours. However, the key to facilitating “leveraged learning” is that we must share our creations in order to motivate and encourage others.
In closing, I would ask readers to click on the title of this blog post and then use the feedback comments form at the end to share links to creative songs, stories and/or musical videos that your students have created so that we may all improve.
Realizing that in some schools, students and teachers are blocked from viewing YouTube videos. To facilitate others viewing my music video tribute, I have provided my story in a variety of other formats. These file variations are listed below, in order of increasing file size, so that readers may download and view a version which is appropriate for their environment:
To survive in education today, teachers have to connect. Whether linkages are person-to-person or virtual (using the power of the Internet), those educators who can rely on the support of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) will be much more successful. More importantly, their students will ultimately gain from the resources, strategies and ideas that are shared amongst such “connected” educators.
A new, and rather unique, opportunity for K-12 Social Studies teachers to connect and learn together has come to my attention. This can happen through the scheduled meetings and resources shared on the TeachMeet web site at: www.teachmeet.ca
Those educators in Winnipeg, and the nearby surrounding area, are encouraged to attend a TeachMeet evening session. The next learning opportunity is only 3 days away on Monday, September 26, 2011 from 7:00 – 9:00 pm at Dalnavert Museum at 61 Carlton Street. Jason Smoker, from Linden Christian School, will be the featured presenter. He will share his experiences facilitating a medieval banquet with his three Grade 8 Social Studies classes.
Past TeachMeet get-togethers have included a tour of the host facilities together with a featured presentation which focused on educationally relevant aspects of the Social Studies curriculum. Following this main presentation, there are usually a series of “lightning round”, 2-3 minute, sharing opportunities conducted by Social Studies teachers. The TeachMeet organizers keep these sessions short and focused. They reasoned that if, for example, you are a Grade 12 History teacher and the current lighting round presenter is describing a Grade 4 Social Studies activity, you may not find the current information relevant. However, you know that in about three minutes time, another Social Studies teacher will share his/her classroom ideas or activities which may be aimed at high school teachers.
In addition to the tour and presentations, there are ample opportunities to network and forge new connections with like-minded Social Studies educators. Even if you may be unable to attend a specific event, you can still learn from the TeachMeet web site. Check out the date links, in the top right corner, of past TeachMeet sessions to see various resources and information that has been shared by both the featured and lightning round presenters.
If you are a K-12 Social Studies teacher, I encourage you to sign up by email so that you can take advantage of the TeachMeet way of connecting. If you are not, please share this blog post with other interested Social Studies teachers.
Take care & keep smiling
Credit: Flickr – Creative Commons image “Dalnavert Museum“ by Dan McKay http://www.flickr.com/photos/mukluk/406472513/
The 37 innovative educators, who recently attended the UnPlug’d Canadian Educational Summit, were given a task. Each participant was challenged to identify one moment or idea, from his/her educational career, which was worthy to be shared in an online publication entitled “Why ___ Matters!”
The key was to “fill in the blank” by telling a story, with educational significance, in such a manner that other educators could also experience the situation, share the passion, and learn from it.
I reviewed the blogs of several participants, prior to their UnPlug’d weekend, and I identified with the challenges that they were facing. Upon reflection, I realized that this task of identifying one’s educational passion and describing it, in a 250 word story, was an exercise that all teachers should consider.
I asked myself … “What aspect of education do you think really matters?” I decided that, for me, my story would be:
Why Sharing Matters! *
There are so many pressures on today’s teacher. It seems that every year, new, enhanced curricula are released, new technology and applications are introduced, and class sizes, as well as, additional subject/class responsibilities continue to increase. Furthermore, every effort is made to adjust one’s lessons/activities to meet the wide diversity of individual student needs. With decreasing school population, educators are asked to teach split classes or take responsibility for additional subjects outside their specialty areas. Teachers can no longer rely on having another colleague or partner teaching the same subject or grade level in their school. With so much additional pressure, teachers can no longer work in isolation. To survive, teachers need to form PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) and share ideas and resources.
Education is all about sharing. True, there are some teachers who can design and implement engaging learning activities or lessons without input from other sources. However, I believe that the vast majority of educators adapt lessons, strategies, or activities that they initially find in books, on the Internet, are exposed to through professional development, or are shared by colleagues. Teachers should continually be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to engage their students lest they fall into a trap of using the exact same resources, without modification, year after year.
The Internet provides a plethora of educational resources, as well as, a powerful mechanism to facilitate sharing and collaboration of ideas. No longer is it necessary for teachers to “snail mail” the “hard copies” of projects and activities to colleagues when so much of today’s resources are in electronic form. All one needs to do is identify the resource creator in the document, attach the material to an e-mail, and send it off to one or more educators.
Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own.
If, upon perusing an incoming shared resource, one feels that it can be used to enhance one’s classes, some additional work needs to be done. Sharing educational resources is not about adopting but adapting resources and making them your own. Each teacher needs to tweak and build upon the resource before using it with students and sharing it with others. Furthermore, I think that it is really important that recipients provide feedback to the original creator of the resource advising this individual how the product has been changed and enhanced.
In summary, I believe that educational sharing should involve the following five steps:
Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
Form a personal learning network (PLN)
Adapt not adopt, shared resources
Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator
Following these five steps will help educators cope with the increased pressure. Not only will your colleagues in your PLN thank you for sharing but, more importantly, your students will appreciate the increased innovative resources that you introduce in class to engage them in the learning process.
Sharing Through Examples:
I know that participants at UnPlug’d were concerned that either their textual essays or their supporting video stories would be viewed independently, in the on-line publication “Why ___ Matters!”, and that viewers might lack the proper context to fully appreciate their educational passion and vision.
When I reflected about my passion of sharing, I thought that the message would be clearer if I was able to include practical, real-life examples to help readers appreciate how a teacher might adapt and improve upon a potential classroom activity. Thanks to the innovative work and passion of Chris Harbeck, a middle school teacher at Sargent Park School, my suggested steps can be better illustrated.
1. Regularly share resources & ideas with at least one other educator
I have always shared classroom resources with other educators. True, some educators might not have the initial confidence to share their own created activities. However, with the plethora of innovative resources on the Internet, it is easy to find ones that will help out most teachers. Sharing web addresses of such resources is a beginning. In fact, I have informed email recipients in past that “I’ll continue to share resources that I feel may be of interest. If however, you deem the information of little use, you know where the <Del>ete key is located.”
2. Identify the creator (if possible) on all resources that you share
Certainly when one emails others the web address of a potential resource, the web site normally identifies the individual creator. However, when one creates his/her own resource, or when a colleague forwards such a resource, I think that it is very important that the creator’s email address be included in the document. I recommend that a cryptic version of one’s conventional email address be embedded in the footer, as illustrated in Jeff Sinnock’s “SPONSOR CHILD” Photo Story rubric (found in the “Download” section at the bottom of this linked post). Using a cryptic email convention will reduce unwanted spam being sent to the resource creator should the document be uploaded to the web. Including an email address in all shared documents, is the key for on-going communication.
3. Form a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
This image illustrates the fundamental truth that all Personal Learning Networks begin with a single “connection” between two individuals. I believe that PLNs begin in a very informal manner with one person choosing to share information with one or more colleagues. Although initial sharing might be begin as person-to-person or through email, it might evolve to sharing information acquired through following blog RSS feeds, or Twitter “tweets” of respected educators through to sharing annotated bookmarks through Diigo. In fact, I often “lurk” (without commenting) and observe communication between a number of respected educators. However, when I find tidbits or ideas that I think might benefit others, I share the information.
For example, Chris Harbeck is an educator who I have admired for a number of years because he engages his students in creative ways while teaching Mathematics. As a former Math teacher, I know how difficult this subject can be and I have taught students who challenged me to explain “How is knowing the quadratic formula going to benefit me in later life?” Although I often stated that “Mathematics is all about problem solving”, Chris has taken this statement to a whole new level. Not only do Chris’ students examine Mathematics problems in the traditional sense, they are challenged to look at problems in a global sense as caring digital citizens.
This compassionate and global perspective was demonstrated in November, 2010 when I came across a story about Laura Stockman. In her blog “25 Days to Make A Difference”, ten year old Laura, decided to save her December allowance of $1.00 per day to donate to a worthy charity on Christmas day in honour of her recently deceased grandfather. Although I could have simply shared Laura’s web site address with potentially interested educators, I decided to write a blog post entitled “How to Make A Difference in December”. Knowing that Chris and his students were always considering special projects, I sent Chris an email suggesting that he might want to investigate Laura’s project as one that his students might adopt.
4. Adapt not adopt, shared resources
Adopting a shared resource is easy. One simply duplicates the resource, distributes it to your students, and completes the task or activity. However, teachers are challenged to adapt, rather than adopt, shared resources. For this to happen, teachers must take the original resource and improve on it or expand it in some fashion “to make it their own”. If all educators modified and improved resources before sharing them with colleagues, our repertoire of shared materials would gain in power and our students would benefit more.
Chris began adapting this “charity challenge” by suggesting that each of his students consider contributing 25 cents, of his/her own money, per day for each day in December. He then enhanced the activity by creating a blog post entitled “Would your students donate $0.25 a day?” where he challenged other schools and students to raise money in a similar fashion. In order that all participating school teams could see their progress throughout December, Chris next created his “25 Cents a Day” wiki.
The next adaptation for Chris was to investigate the power that students have to make a positive change, both locally as well as in remote areas of the world. In the Spring of 2011, Chris challenged his students to again contribute their own money to make several $25 micro-loans through the Kiva organization to members in third-world countries. His blog post entitled, “Teaching Citizenship – Part 3 – 25 Cents a Day” shares both the excitement and student engagement. However, I think that the last sentence of this blog post exemplifies the power of sharing when Chris states “Contact me and we can create a movement that will change people’s lives”.
5. Acknowledge and provide feedback to the original creator
I think that it is very important that recipients of shared resources acknowledge the original creator. That is why I recommend that recipients ensure that the original creator’s email is embedded within the resource as outlined in Step 2. As an individual, who has created a number of educational resources from scratch, I would welcome feedback and/or modified documents from recipients indicating how they had adapted my work and what improvements were made. Such dialogue opens up communication and provides opportunities to expand connections within one’s Personal Learning Network.
Although I did not send an email to Laura Stockman thanking her for sharing her idea on-line, I did take time to acknowledge her innovative project by sending a comment to her blog post.
A Video With A Vision: In conclusion, I strongly recommend that all readers view Chris Harbeck’s UnPlug’d video entitled “Why Digital Citizenship Matters!”Not only will you see how a shared December charity initiative can blossom and mature through commitment and innovative adaptation. More importantly, you will witness a passionate educator, who is definitely a “champion of teenagers”, share strategies for fostering digital citizenship in today’s youth.
Take care & keep smiling
Credit: Flickr Image “Get Connected!” by Divergent Learner http://www.flickr.com/photos/metaweb/4345676181/
* “Why Sharing Matters!” was the title that I had chosen for my draft of this post, long before John Evan’s story (of the same name) was recently revealed in Chapter 6 on the UnPlug’d web site.
Clarence Fisher has a mission! He wants to help global kids connect. To do this, he has enlisted his personal learning network and followers to help contribute a total of $4oo by July 26th to the development of an education tool that will help students interact and connect worldwide. I believe in Clarence Fisher and I believe in his vision!
Who is Clarence Fisher? Clarence is an innovative Manitoba master educator. Although, he has been awarded Canada’s Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching, he is known worldwide, throughout the blogging community, as an innovative educator who engages his middle years’ students and uses technology to foster 21st century learning. Clarence lives and teaches in Snow Lake, Manitoba, which is located at the center of three of Manitoba’s northern cities of Flin Flon, The Pas, and Thompson. As one who lives approximately 685 kilometers north of Winnipeg, one might consider Clarence to be somewhat isolated. However, don’t tell Clarence’s students that they are isolated, because they know differently! They have been connecting, through various innovative, technology-supported, projects, with students and educators worldwide during the past decade.
When I first began my blog back in January 2010, I wanted to include a few links in my Blogroll to exemplary educational resources. There was no hesitation in my inclusion of Clarence Fisher’s “Remote Access” blog as a unique window into an innovative teacher’s mind and middle years’ classroom .
However, it was Clarence’s two recent posts that piqued my curiosity:
Here was an educator who, in the latter part of July, should be “recharging his batteries” and enjoying his vacation with his family and friends. Rather, in his July 16th post, Clarence was expressing a need for “a recommendation engine for students that would help them find other students around the world that they can learn with”. Through this reflective blogging process and feedback from his personal learning network, Clarence finds that no one knows of such an educational application. Furthermore, many educators feel that his vision has merit but they all confess that they don’t have the necessary programming or coding skills to develop such an education tool. At this point, the vast majority of teachers would stop with a sigh and an “Oh well, it was a good idea …” mutter. Not so, Clarence! Rather, he demonstrates and models his problem solving strategies by submitting his idea to an out-sourcing “virtual worker” website. Here, he described his needs and application developers around the world bid on the job. From feedback, Clarence determines that he can hire a virtual worker(s) to create his vision of an “educational recommendation engine” for $450. Once again, many of us, with discretionary classroom budgets of less than $100 per school year, would fall before this insurmountable $450 barrier. Again Clarence accepts the challenge and tries a rather creative source of funding … you … the educational reader. In his July 19th blog post, “Helping Global Kids Connect“, Clarence decides to see if other readers are willing to add to his initial $50 investment and help contribute an additional $400.
As I publish this post on Saturday, July 23, I am pleased to note that through the generosity of nine readers, $265 has already been donated to this endeavour. One is strongly encouraged to make a pledge promptly before the Tuesday, July 26th deadline. If you believe in Clarence’s vision, as I do, don’t fail to contribute – even if the total surpasses $400. I am somewhat familiar with the “virtual worker” out-sourcing model, as I purchased services from 99designs.com in early 2010. This opportunity allowed me to describe ideas to be included in my “Life-Long-Learners” letterhead and logo. Graphic designers, from around the world, submitted different creations for my review. It was truly an eye-opening, global experience for me as the winning design was created by a very gifted individual from the Ukraine. My experience would suggest that although Clarence has established a $450 coding fee, it may cost slightly more. Often bugs and anomalies do not appear until the application is used by different schools and many students. In addition, through day-to-day classroom use, one starts to realize “tweaks” and enhancements that could be made. Should Clarence hope to implement such additional features, it might be nice to have funds available, in reserve, to reimburse the application developer(s).
In summary, I think that during this endeavour, Clarence Fisher has demonstrated, or will engage in, the following 10 problem solving steps:
Identifying a problem
Looking for an existing solution
Collaborating and consulting with his personal learning network (PLN)
Writing down an initial draft of what is needed and examples of how students might use such an application
Searching crowd-sourcing web resources to gain an estimate for development costs
Examining a unique way to fund the project through investment by peers
Communicating and collaborating between Clarence and the application developer(s), once the funding is secured
Testing the application within the classroom
Sharing the application with others
Celebrating the success of the endeavour and reflecting on it’s benefits
I commend Clarence for sharing this adventure with his readers and modelling these important problem-solving steps. As teachers, we would hope that all our students will use similar strategies whenever they encounter new problems on their way to becoming successful, life-long-learners.
In closing, I urge you to review Clarence’s proposal in his post “Helping Global Kids Connect” and seriously consider contributing. Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best, when he stated, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
As a long-time user of the Internet, I am quite familiar with the analogy which states that acquiring information from the world-wide-web is like “trying to drink from a fire-hose”. However, I recently had this concept reinforced when I purchased a British magazine titled the “Blogger’s Handbook“. The following quote blew me away:
“Technorati currently tracks over 112 million blogs and over 175,000 new blogs being created worldwide every day.”
As more and more teachers and students move from being traditional Internet consumers to Internet producers, this “information overload” will only dramatically accelerate as new, educational blogs, podcasts, and resources are created and shared.
How can we, as educators, survive this torrent of information? Undoubtedly, we must become practical and adhere to the maxim which states that “your friends are your filters”. Here are six suggestions that I think can help educators manage this infoglut.
Create your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) by contacting two, or three, like-minded educators in your own school division and suggest that this “team” begin sharing bookmarks and resources by email.
Learn how to tag useful, educational resources with Diigo (with the possibility, that in time, you may share resources with educators in your PLN).
Each member of your PLN selects three different educational blogs that s/he will review weekly and share relevant information with the other colleagues by email. For example, in a PLN of four educators, each member benefits by potentially acquiring information from 12 different educational blogs.
Encourage your PLN members to sign up for Twitter, begin following other educators, and sending out “tweets” of educational relevance.
Acquire a Google account, start using Google Reader to follow a limited number of educational feeds, and share newsworthy information with your PLN.
As an educator you must begin “working smarter not harder” if you are to begin to infuse technology into your learning and teaching. By creating or becoming a contributing member of an active Personal Learning Network, you help “leverage learning” so that all members of your community of learners benefit and grow.
Take care & keep smiling
Credit: Flickr image “Road maps” by Pete Reed http://www.flickr.com/photos/petereed/3258043981/
I care less and less about a particular teacher’s content expertise and more about whether that person is a master learner … What I want are master learners, not master teachers, learners who see my kids as their apprentices for learning. — Will Richardson