February 2008


Dean Shareski recently shared with our EC&I 831 class his personal journey into becoming “connected”. Having worked with Dean for almost two years now, I have been privy to many of his “connections” – as he’s constantly forwarding us links to blogs and information he comes across that is pertinent to our work. We’ve had skype conversations with Ewan McIntosh, and I’d heard of many of our guest speakers (Clarence Fisher, Darren Kuropatwa, etc.) prior to this class as Dean is constantly sharing their work with us. Dean is very passionate about his work, and he is eager to pass on the contagiousness.

 Having said that, he is very cognizant that Web 2.0 is not everyone’s passion, and so he’s often taken the approach that people need to have valid reasons for engaging with the myriad of tools available. I felt he reiterated this again last night when he gave us “5 Big Ideas”, the first of which stuck with me the most – “Get Personal and Selfish”.

This really hit home for me, as I’ve been feeling like I need to start using all these great tools we’ve been learning about in this class IMMEDIATELY. In fact, I’ve been quite guilt-ridden over our class collaborative wiki, as I’ve been very tentative to add information, as I’m unsure whether I have enough “expertise” to really be sharing, let alone adding a topic myself. Silly, but true.  

So when Dean mentioned this big idea, that we can’t get caught up in tying things to classroom applications right away,  a light bulb kind of went off for me. I realized that I don’t need to pressure myself to incorporate EVERY tool we talk about into my work, nor do I need to be an EXPERT in any of these areas. As with anything, my needs will drive what I really begin to engage with – which will ensure it’s meaningful and useful. Right now Twitter isn’t useful to me, and I don’t see how I’d use Animoto, YET…even keeping up with my blog is still a challenge (although I must admit I find myself reading alot more). However, Moviemaker has been extremely useful as I recently developed a Guided Reading video as requested by our teachers. I’m hoping to use Adobe Connect early next week with some teachers to have a short information session on Writing Benchmarks instead of them driving to use our polycom. I’ve also dabbled with Camtasia to put together a screencast to share with our teachers around Writing Benchmarks.  

I realize that while only certain tools will be useful to me at certain points in time, the exposure to the range we’ve discussed is imperative, as are the networks we are creating to discuss the use of these tools. It’s great to be able to see and hear about what’s worked for people, the successes and challenges they’ve faced, etc.

So…I’m going to continue to get personal and stay selfish… 

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So I’ve spent the better part of this evening getting myself subscribed to Flickr & Del.icio.us…trying to figure out how these tools are going to impact me – as a learner and as an educator.

The power of Del.ici.ous seems pretty straightforward in it’s primary purpose of housing bookmarks online…that in and of itself will make my life easier. But I can see how accessing networks of others bookmarks is also extremely powerful. I  went immediately to Dean’s and Alec’s accounts and added them to my network…and felt a bit odd about it at first. I feel as though I’m a bit of a creeper…which is really stupid considering the purpose of the tool, but I wasn’t really sure where else to start! I guess as I continue to engage with social bookmarking I’ll sort it out. So far I’ve added people that I personally know, or know of from colleagues…but I am curious – how do I build a network that will best meet my needs? I’m not sure it makes sense to just arbitrarily add people because I know them….? I used the search engine a couple of times, but didn’t come up with a whole lot…perhaps my keywords were not specific enough.

The one thing I do need to become more adept at is adding tags…I always forget!!

In terms of classroom application – again – I can see the power of students and teachers organizing and housing useful links and sites in one location. I can’t help but think of the higher order thinking skills that students need just to provide useful tags…let alone the opportunities inherent for collaboration when they can access and share resources. As with anything, though, using the tool needs to be meaningful…not just for the sake of using it. As Richard Schwier reminded us, we’ve seen many “panaceas” in schools over the years – everything from filmstrips to the internet. Simply having the technology or the tools doesn’t guarantee improved learning…

I cannot believe the timeliness of our session tonight with Sharon Peters. Her discussion on Digital Literacies is exactly the discussion I’ve was having with my Grade 1 teachers this afternoon. It is discussion that everyone needs to participate in -all teachers (whether ELA or not), administrators, parents, community at large, and last but certainly not least, our students. The media rich world we’re living in requires a shift in our understanding of “literacy”, which while not an entirely new concept – does have implications for our practice in our classrooms. 

Earlier this fall, we rolled out to our Grade 1 teachers a set of rubrics and common assessments for ELA – which basically houses the entire curriculum in 6 pages. Teachers report on every strand, every term. One of the major purposes of the project was to compact the curriculum and make it more teacher friendly, but another major purpose was to encourage teachers to begin focusing instruction in all 6 strands (reading, writing, listening, speaking, representing, and viewing). While the strands have been in provincial curriculum for several years, I think it’s a fair assumption to make that they have not been given equal weighting in the classroom. Reading and writing are considered the most critical strands by pretty much all parties involved.

So how do we move ourselves towards this understanding that engaging students in all strands, and multiple literacies, is important and necessary work?

The project is a start, to be sure.

One teacher commented how one of her students struggled with reading, but was far exceeding expectations in the viewing strand. She acknowledged how empowering it was to be able to share that information with parents during interviews, where traditionally, she would have typically had less positive news if she’d only focused on reading and writing. No doubt that student also felt empowered.

I could share a myriad of positive feedback that came from today’s session…which is wonderful to have. But, there is still concern about the validity of focusing equally on all 6 strands. These teachers want the research. Where is the proof that focusing on all 6 strands will lead to improved student learning? Why should they give up what they’ve always done? Is this just anothere bandwagon that we’re jumping on?

One of the suggestions that came from today’s session was to develop an information video for parents about the 6 strands, which could be played at PTI’s. I’m going to start working on it right away – because the message does need to be spread.

Our kids need to critically view, listen, read, represent, speak and write. Our teachers need to provide them authentic, contextualized opportunities to do so. 

This group of teachers is working hard to figure out how to do that. It’s not easy work. But they’re mucking about, talking, questioning, experimenting, but most importantly, reflecting…and I think that is what is most critical – whether we’re implementing new technology, new instructional strategies, or a new definition of “literacy”.

I thought these links were somewhat interesting in light of my last post…

http://www.nationalpost.com/life/story.html?id=213392

You may have read this article about a young woman in New York who’s house was totally trashed after a New Year’s party. She used email and PayPal to try to get some money from the attendees to cover damages. Perhaps she should get better friends. LOL.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2007/06/11/facebook-police.html?ref=rss

This article speaks about the Ontario Police using Facebook to intercept a bush party, and then using Facebook to also warn potential attendees of their presence. Smart cookies…no one showed up at the party. Fingers crossed my sister’s post will have the same effect!! 🙂

Interesting to note, though, that Facebook has become a powerful tool for the police. I’m glad I have no outstanding warrants. LOL.

While I would normally not include family crises on this blog, Facebook and MSN messenger, along with text messaging no doubt, have helped to create a situation that is of great concern to me, and so I think this might be the appropriate venue to divulge, since we have been examining the pros and cons of social networking. A little background is necessary…

I have 3 siblings in my family – a brother and sister in their 30’s, and my youngest brother who is 19, soon to be 20. The age difference is considerable, and has created at times the disadvantage of my youngest to have not two parents, but five. Despite this, or maybe as a direct result of this, he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to anyone, and pretty much goes about his business with little regard for others, especially my folks. Don’t get me wrong – he’s not a bad person…just maybe a little spoiled and lacking some maturity and responsibility.

The Situation:

My parents recently left on their very first ever warm vacation to Mexico. They have been there for just over a week and are having a lovely time. One of their direct requests when they left was that there were to be no parties at their home in their absence. You can imagine my surprise when I borrowed my little brother’s computer last week and found his MSN tag to read, “party February 8th at mom and dad’s”. (They get home the NEXT DAY!) Rightly or wrongly, I changed the tag to read “No parties until the van gets fixed”.

(SIDEBAR: He smashed their van last week. They still don’t know about it.)

Despite my not so subtle hint, he proceeded to create an event on Facebook. (I must say, I’ve used this application myself, and find it to be quite a useful tool. The best thing about it is keeping track of who is and who is not attending the function. Makes planning for food much, much easier.) In any case, in addition to the time and place, his event reads as such:

So far numbers seem to be decent if everyone who says there coming does. Just throwing this out to see if any people who may have nothing better on this friday night want to come party.. parents are out of town so i’m trying to fill up stairs and downstairs.. everyone is welcome to bring friends.. let’s just keep it clean people

See…he’s not so bad…he at least wants the house to stay clean…(as if!)

While I’d like to feign innocence and pretend that I’ve never thrown a house party in my parents’ absence, that would be a total lie. I threw several, as did my sister and brother. This is an argument the youngest has already thrown back at us – “You did it.” True. We did. BIG DIFFERENCE – we didn’t announce it to the province, hell, the world, via Facebook or MSN messenger.

At least that is what we’re telling ourselves…but I’m starting to wonder…didn’t the word spread just as quickly over the phone when that was our primary means of communication? Just how powerful are these social networking tools?

My sister heard about the party from a colleague, who had heard via her own children that kids are coming from towns 200 km away. Every high school student in Avonlea knows about it, and plans to attend. My little brother has played ball and hockey in Moose Jaw, Weyburn and Regina – not to mention all the towns he would have competed against in school sports. Add to that the fact that he has extended the invitation for people to invite whoever they want…this party could potentially be HUGE….and that is what scares us most of all. It’s not his friends that are necessarily a concern; but what about the strangers that may simply arrive uninvited?

The legal ramifications are huge; I’m certain he hasn’t considered this.

Bottom line – we (my siblings and I) don’t want this party to happen, but the youngest is conveniently avoiding all calls and text messages. So…we thought we’d fight facebook with facebook…his friends will hopefully take this post from my sister to heart:

HEADS UP … I just want to give you time to contact EVERYONE in the province and let them know that the party at mom and dad’s house is OFF! If you want a party, then wait until mom and dad are home. I realize that we have had parties at our parent’s in the past, BUT things like FACEBOOK and MSN did not exist back in the day to make it a GLOBAL invitation.

Here’s hoping Facebook is as powerful at cancelling the party as it was at creating it…