Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Textbooks- Where do they fit? A think aloud

This is a think aloud about textbooks … I invite you to add your thoughts too…

Recently I received a survey from one of the major textbook publishers seeking information about our current textbooks and the cycle for reviewing and purchasing new books. As I worked my way through the questions it was increasingly evident just how much my thinking about textbooks has changed. When I first started teaching school anyone with some basic teaching skill could pick up a text walk into a classroom and be confident that they could be at least moderately successful. Every 4 years or so new textbooks were slated for purchase. Through the accreditation process one part of the discussion explored the copyright dates of the texts and schools were (and still are) often praised or dinged in part based on these dates.

I am not suggesting that textbooks do not serve a function in our educational process or that they have no value as one of our curricular tools. What I am saying is that they no longer are the gate keepers of knowledge and therefore are not in the place of primacy they once occupied. So what do we need and want?

I am not going to invest money every year in new textbooks unless there is a significant reason to make the purchase. I need textbooks which are responsive to the idea of ubiquitous sources of information. I need textbooks which are digital and accessible for all of my students. I need textbooks which respect the teacher and the students as unique learners and do not roll out a prepackaged product that says this is how you do it and this is all you need to know. I need textbooks which recognize, respect and encourage digital literacy, connections with new sources of knowledge and construction of new meaning.

So if we take a holistic approaching to budgeting and it is driven by student learning where do textbooks fit into the picture? How often do we need to purchase new texts? What criteria do we use to evaluate this question?

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Photo A Day Update

We are entering the next phase of our project and learning as we go. We have just set up a wiki complement our Flickr site in order to encourage discussion among the students. There are about five schools who are really active out of our 25 members but it is a good solid group and diverse enough to provide a platform for a global conversation. The wiki will provide the students with more access to each other and more ownership of the project.

It has been (is) an exciting ride and I invite you to visit the wiki from time to time to see what develops. We are each setting up our pages now and borrowing an idea from Clay's 1001 wiki we will be posting clocks to show our local time.

On the local front our 7th and 8 th grade students are producing their first video clips. In conjunction with a large project on family history and culture they are creating 30 second segments on "Who I am and Where I come from".... The students ( even the reluctant ones) are coming in early staying late and giving up breaks to work on this one!

One year ago this was all just a dream....

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A cool tip for Word

This tip was posted on Greg's blog and the original source is Window Fanatic. Even though I am not a window fanatic I think the tip is useful...

this is a cool tip:

Here is a nifty tip for selecting text in Word that many people don’t know about. Normally when you select text in Word, you do so horizontally, from right to left or left to right. However, what do you do if the text you need to select is vertical; for example, what if you want to bold the first word on each line? You can select and bold each word individually or you can make a vertical selection.

To make a vertical selection, hold down the ALT key as you drag the mouse pointer to select the text. If you want to select the first word on each line, hold down the ALT key and drag the mouse pointer up or down to highlight each word.

When you’re using this tip, remember that you can make a vertical selection anywhere in your document.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Conversations via comments

I have found lately that I have done a fair amount of reading and commenting but not much blog writing. I had big plans to review my blog and write an entry about some of the key ideas I have encountered in the last year (March 15 marked my first year of writing). Maybe I still will because I know there are some important concepts hidden back in earlier blogs that I need to revisit…but for now my point…..

and Clay have been discussing on their blogs the best pedagogy in approaching blogs with students and helping them become writers. It has been a great conversation moving back and forth between comments and the blogs themselves. However it has made me wonder about the intersection between writing and conversing.

Reading to write…becoming a writer…. Commenting to converse and to be stretched and to learn....How do these concepts fit together?

This is a personal question and it also has implication for student practice. I know it is not an “either or choice” it is a” both/ and” but it requires balance. In practice that balance may not be very neat or symmetrical because there are times when our engagement with ideas may not happen so much on our personal blog as they do in interacting with ongoing conversations on the blogs of others.

What does it mean for our students?

For me? Maybe it is a case of writers block or overload....being a conversationalist has been fun!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

School wide blogging: What should it entail?

Recently I have been participating in a conversation on Clay Burell’s blog Beyond School about blogging in the classroom. It started as his think aloud and evolved through multiple post and comments to a good discussion about how to utilize blogs in a school wide setting. This issue is just coming into its own as more teachers are employing blogging in connection with their classes across a school community.

Some of the issues to consider include:

  1. One blog per students or multiple blogs per student

In my opinion and experience one blog per students is the way to go. It allows for the students to experience cross curricular applications and synthesis of learning. It works to counter the departmentalization too prevalent in our current system of education. It also encourages teacher collaboration.

  1. How are blogs used and who assesses the blogs/ for what purpose?

Clay has developed one option which you can read about on his blog. In essence it utilizes the blog as a journal of the students learning journey over 4 years. The blog will be a synthesis project culminating in their graduation year. One issue at the heart of his approach is a concern that using blogs in a more homework oriented fashion robs them of their power. (You need to read what he says to get a whole picture because this simplistic explanation does not do justice to his thought process) Clay, thanks for raising the question and helping me to think through my views. You are doing some great things and you always make your own learning curve transparent which gives me wings too.

I believe that writing across the curriculum is essential. It is the gateway to thinking like a scientist, a historian or a mathematician. It is the antidote to memorizing empty facts and leads to synthesis and higher level thinking. Therfore ideally it involves all teachers and all disciplines.

In addition, I think that engaging the students requires an authentic audience. Therefore my vision ( it s not a developed plan yet) is that blogs will be an integral part of all classes. I work at the K-8 level and the main focus of blogging is in grades 6 to 8. For now because the students still need to explore a variety of topics to expand their world some blogging will be prescribed. Teachers will need to help the students build an authentic audience and deliberately connect them with experts in the real world.

I also believe that blogs do not stand alone and therefore building Personal Learning Communities that reflect subject areas and course content are an important factor in creating reflective writing in content areas. I believe that a cross curricular team approach to mentoring (and assessing) the students is important so that they are encouraged to develop their voices and thinking in light of the unique voice and thinking characterized by different disciplines.

What do you think school wide blogging should take into consideration?

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

BLC Conference Attendance

So are any of you planning to attend the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston this summer? I remember reading on someones blog that they had attended last year but I do not remember who. I will be attending and I hope I will get to meet some of you in person there. Let me know if any of you are thinking about going.
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Skrbl- a Cool tool/ 10 New majors-An article

Recent article that showed up on my MSN account 10 Majors that Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago. I just glanced at it but I think it maybe worth a look. It is certainly another piece of the ongoing story.

Great tool--- this one comes from Greg’s Weblog and it is called skrbl. It is still in beta but definitely worth exploring. With an LCD projector this is a great alternative for those of us who can’t afford “Smart boards” or tablets. Plus it is a good resource for distance collaboration.

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Back from CUE

CUE review....it really is about the conversations and the experiences!

The two things which made me think deeply were a conversation I had with Steve Hargadon and the workshop which the teachers and I presented on our journey which was about how to implement change and what can be done in six months.

The edubloggers meetup ended up just being Steve and myself but we had a great discussion about education. One thing that I have been pondering was our discussion about rigor. What is educational (or intellectual) rigor? As we design more open ended learning and move away from distinct chunks of knowledge it is sometimes harder for the constituency to quantify learning. Therefore, as we redesign courses we need to be transparent in describing the learning. By way of example we talked about the Japan unit I was working on in Moodle. Which is more rigorous? Following the text, learning about the early history of Japan and origins of its culture and passing the book test...OR Placing it in the context of a unit on Asia ( ie not studying in isolation from China and Korea), making connections with modern day Japan students/schools and considering how Japanese culture is carried over to the US by Japanese Americans? I know this seems obvious but my point is we need to be clear in our expression of what we are doing. We need to identify base knowledge the students need in order to explore deeper and we need to explain all of this to our community.

Our workshop was a great experiences on a number of levels. Our opportunity to present grew out of our participation in the ISTE Institute last July. So, Don Knezek, the CEO of ISTE attended our session and his affirmation and encouragement raised the bar, cemented the importance of continuing to move forward and provided the courage for me to continue to embrace change. Our experience at the ISTE Institute provided us with a foundation and a direction for change which will continue to anchor us and sustain our process of growth. The two concepts that we explored at the Institute were the NETS and the Essential Conditions for the integration of technology. As an important side note here-If you have not become involved in the refresh the NETS movement follow this link and give your input before the end of March.
It had been awhile since I had spoken at a conference and as always there were things I personally could have done better but there is something very powerful about the ownership that comes from explaining what you did as a means to provide inspiration and encouragement for others to move forward. The teachers did such a great job of speaking from their hearts and giving witness to the fact that the best way to integrate technology is not to have all the answers but is to get started and to be willing to learn collaboratively with your students! Publicly standing behind what you are doing is a powerful way to create ownership and promote continued change.

I did not attend any earth shattering presentations. Nothing that stretched the envelope on pedagogy or philosophy but I did attend a number of informative presentations. The list of talks were largely centered around issues of how to use tools and that was a good thing in many ways. I knew what tools I needed to understand better and I discovered a couple of new tools. I understand the "cast" in podcasting now, I think I get Google earth and how to use it in the classroom, I learned some tricks of the trade for RSS feeds and even for searching and I learned about some applications of video games in the classroom. Perhaps the best part was that the four teachers who also attended were getting excited about the tools and deepening their understanding too.
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Friday, March 02, 2007

Moral Imperative? CUE takes on new meaning...

Typing on my lap and on the fly so this may not be the smoothest post but I hope to capture the highlights and maybe even some on the spot reflections. This morning I read an interesting post on Scott Mcleod's blog which raises a very important question about social justice. He suggests that we have a moral imperative to embrace what for lack of a better term we call School 2.0. (You really need to read the whole post)

"Many of us education bloggers write a lot about transforming classroom practice to reflect the needs of a new world: we often call it ‘School 2.0.’ Is School 2.0 the ultimate social justice issue for disadvantaged students? Is School 2.0 the most critical social justice issue of our time if disadvantaged students aren’t going to be left even further behind than they already are? If so, why aren’t we framing more of our technology initiatives and discussion in this way? Where’s our moral imperative?"

Scott's perspective raises the stakes on what is going on at CUE and across the educational blogosphere. I celebrate incremental change and understand that starting overcomes inertia but now I am wondering how much time we need and how to shorten the time until we embrace systemic change.

Keynote presentation: The Natives are Restless- Deneen Bowen

Digital natives or digital savages-- laugh a little at the things that are feared.. the students will take over, student wisdom an oxymoron, students to connected and distracted...
And then from the kids perspective... sorry but you had to be there ... The power of a two minute movie and …..

Great tool to hear the students voice- NetDay Speak Up – Survey of students: Tech use at school and in school, obstacles at school, what would you choose as important if you could design a new school,
Results gives you opportunity to compare to national responses

The talk was definitely experiential and hard to capture in words but one of the key components was to listen to the student’s voices.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Moodleing in Palm Springs

I am posting from Cue 2007. I have spent the last two days in a Moodle training session and though the actual conference has not started my head is already spinning. For those of you who may not be familiar with Moodle check out their web site .In short it is an open source version of Blackboard.

Last night as I reflected on my experience there were a couple of things that are worthy of note. First is one feature that is part of Moodle which was news to me. Within each course you can add a RSS feeder to enhance course content. This is a great feature for those of us determined to give student access to Web 2.0 and up-to-date information for their course of study!

The other issue I have been reflecting on is course design. As I struggled through my learning curve in trying to construct a course I found that the traditional elementary and middle school model of lesson planning was not well suited to this new tool. Don’t get me wrong you could put up a very traditional class but in my opinion to utilize its full capability you need to think outside the box. I have not fully thought out what this means but I have a few ideas that I think need to be examined. At the K-8 level lesson planning has always focused on daily objectives and in recent years with project based learning and essential questions there has been some movement toward looking at the bigger picture but I still believe that for the most part K-8 balks at the idea of syllabus and long range planning. The argument so often is the” teachable moment”, I can’t plan very far out. Okay I get that but I do not fully buy it. If we want kids to take charge of their learning we have to stop dishing out discreet portions and become facilitators of a bigger picture. I was trying to plan a lesson for seventh grade on the early history of Japan but how can I teach that without putting it in the context of Asia in general and modern Japan. No wonder students are not engaged and see their learning at disconnected and learn for the test. How much of the text is truly essential base knowledge? What is important? I am now more convinced than ever that we need to define power standards and focus on bigger chunks. To facilitate learning in a digital world we need to know exactly what is important for everybody ( the base knowledge) and where the students can have the freedom to explore and we must teach in context of the world in which we live. To put it bluntly for most 7th graders in our school the customs of early Japan are far removed from their lived experience and do not engage them. But they might be interested if Japan has a name and face … a connection with their world. They know about the Philippines so another connection could be ...how are the development of these to island cultures the same and different?

We can only find time for this kind of exploration and learning if we have a clear idea of what is essential in the big picture otherwise we are tied to our textbooks, our daily objectives. and discreet bundles of knowledge which are soon forgotten after the test.

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