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…

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Dr. John Brown, keynote at the SAILs conference in Saskatoon, speak at length on the research Robert Marzano has done about the role instruction plays in improving academic achievement. One of the most essential findings, which really is not a suprise, is that teachers have a huge impact on promoting the academic success of all learners.

As part of the presentation, video footage about International testing was shared with us. While the report was almost 10 years old, I found it to be particularly interesting in light of conversations I’ve been having with a colleague (aka my sister) recently. While often international testing compares general knowledge of students, the testing being discussed in the footage was unique in that it was the same curriculum being taught from one country to another. So while that has often been a factor in comparison, it was no longer a consideration in this situation.

The results of this international assessment indicated the U.S. was lagging, considerably, behind it’s foreign counterparts in the areas of math and science. I was particularly intrigued by the commentary that even honors students in the U.S. were outperformed by foreign students in tech. and vocational programs. The purpose of the report was to examine the differences between foreign and U.S. classrooms with regard to teacher instructional approaches.

These were my personal observations:

U.S. Educators

Foreign Educators
·        Teacher directed – teachers provide students with a formula or procedure, and students follow the steps to complete the problem ·        Teachers start by giving students a PROBLEM – not the steps/procedure.
·        First sign of frustration – teacher steps in to help ·        Students help each other to solve problems
·        Too much curriculum ·        Less curriculum

While the last point references the differences in the amount of curriculum U.S. students are forced to grapple with compared to foreign students, and I think is a critical piece of how successful we are in improving the academic success of our students, it is the first two points that I find most intriguing -especially the issue of frustration.

Why are we so quick to step in and help our students? Why is it we think we will damage their self-esteem if they are left to struggle? Obviously there is a balance to be maintained, but if fostered in the right environment, isn’t a little frustration a healthy thing? 

I’ve recently witnessed how an educator (who also happens to be my sister) came to grips with this very issue. In working to meet school goals, she has begun using The Problem Solver in her classroom as a resource to support her students problem solving abilities. If you are not familiar with this resource, suffice it to say that the problems are very challenging. Knowing this, my sister chose to use the resource a grade level below to find 3 questions as a preassessment for her class. To prove to me how difficult these problems were, and reiterate that the kids would, “never be able to do them”, she suggested that I try them. The two of us sat down one evening and attempted to tackle the problems. A couple of hours later I still didn’t have the right answer to two of them, and wasn’t sure how I got the right answer to the third. I think what she was hoping I’d say is, “You’re right – these are way too hard – don’t give them to the kids.” But instead, I said, “Well, see what the kids can do with them.”

Despite being very skeptical and worried that she would frustrate her students, she did infact give them the problems. And to her surprise, they did better than she expected. What was most interesting, however, was her response in the staff room of her school when two other teachers were throwing their hands up in the air saying, “They can’t do these problems. They are just too hard.” My sister simply said, “Let them try. You’d be surprised.”, and another teacher in the room spoke of her own students tackling the problems saying, “They had to try. They couldn’t hand in an empty page.” Bravo.

Another key finding of Marzano’s is that we must set high expectations for ALL of our students. I think too often we dismiss the capabilities of our students, and we fear damaging their self-esteem if we have to offer criticism or critical advice. I know I’ve often suggested to colleagues that they should use their students’ work as exemplars for the rest of the class, and I’m disheartened by the number of times I’ve heard, “But what about those kids who will never have exemplary work?” Wait a second…if one already has the mindset that a child will never have exemplary work, Houston, we have a problem. If our students aren’t presenting us with exemplary work, isn’t it our responsiblity to find an avenue in which they can?? I think so. And I think a little struggling along the way is perfectly acceptable too.

As our guest speaker last week, Darren Kuropatwa made the comment that “mistakes are precious”. Again, not a new concept – the mantra that you can learn as much or more from your mistakes has been around a long time. And yet we seem to destroy the curiosity in our kids…so that all they want to do is find the right answer to please us, or get the answer right, and move on. They become very disengaged with their own learning…if indeed they ever were engaged in the first place. Yet another key finding that Marzano discusses – the importance of engagement. If you can’t hook them, you might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher at the front of the room…wha, wha, wha, wha, wha…

I realize that I’ve blathered on quite excessively here, and am not sure that it truly makes any sense…ironic considering the title of my blog! I guess that maybe is the very beauty of this blogging…writing forces one to think…oh man, who wants to do that??

It’s interesting to me that last year about this time my colleague was fervently attempting to get our entire consulting team (well, mostly us girls who didn’t yet have blogs!) to get started with this phenomenon that he is so passionately involved with. I don’t know how many times he set us up, only to have us basically waste his efforts with a feeble attempt and then abandon completely in light of frustration, with our common excuse of “We don’t have time to blog!!”. Fortunately, he never chastized us, but rather suggested that when we had a legitimate need to blog – we’d get started.

 So here I am. A master’s class is certainly legitimate.

And yet, I must admit, I had almost started to dabble in the blogging world last semester while taking another EC & I class. I found in my last class that I sure had a lot to say…and sharing it with the prof in a research paper really wasn’t going to do much to start dialogue about the issues I was concerned with. So…I guess I am beginning to see the potential and usefulness of blogging. I’m sure by the end of the course I’ll be a junkie….

This is my first online course, and while I’m not an idiot when it comes to technology, I’m certainly no savant…so this shall be interesting.

We are constantly trying to find innovative ways to use technology in our division as we are spread across a huge piece of the province geographically,  basically the U.S. border to as far north as Craik. For the health and welfare of our teachers, not to mention the financial burdens of mileage, we have placed several polycom units in our rural schools. While they have their glitches, they have proven useful. I’m anxious to learn about other technologies that we can use to engage our teachers in conversations and professional learning…and hopefully inspire them to use the same technologies with their kids. It’s a big shift though…personally and pedagogically, to see that technology can be used effectively. 

I’m a perfect example of that!!