Friday, October 26, 2007

When we get in the way......

Who has the key? by spiralz

What happens when we get out of the way. The ThinWall classroom was using Moodle to create chat groups for the students. Moodle is a great tool and it has served our school well in a variety of circumstances. However in this case the students were finding it cumbersome. For some reason the chats would drop participants or just would not work smoothly. We expect some minor difficulties and we checked settings and tweaked the system but it was beginning to effect the conversation and thus the learning. Clarence suggested we switch to MSN Messenger since his kids all had accounts and then require them to email us transcripts of their chats. Here is where it gets interesting.

I okayed the switch , asked for a code of conduct and directions regarding the transcripts and we went to check with our students to see if the had MSN. Surprisingly only seven did. So now the tech coordinator and myself were considering what we would do. Should the kids set up MSN accounts ? What was involved? Although both he and I had accounts it had been a long time since we set them up so we had to check out what the kids would need to do. The problem here is we had not asked the right questions and we had not listened to the kids. We spent at least 30 minutes working on a solution before we went back and asked the kids what IM they used. It turns out that our kids use Yahoo Messenger. Now what? Someone suggested looking at Meebo which we did... but then I actually talked with the students rather than just getting one reply and running off to find a solution.

As soon as the kids understood the issue that in Snow Lake the kids were using MSN and in LA they were using Yahoo they told us that it was no problem the two platforms could communicate with each other. They knew how to add MSN people to their Yahoo chats...problem solved. Or was it?

I think the hidden problem is that we get in the way. In an effort to be the teacher we do not allow the students to navigate through the tools. We forget to listen and be learners ourselves. It is important that we teach safe and ethical behavior and monitor the way they use the tools as well as helping them see the power the tools have to help them learn. It is good that we show them new things like voicethread and that we make the tools available to them. But we also need to allow them to find solutions and use the tools that work for them. Last night before we even had officially switched from Moodle one of the groups switched on their own and emailed the transcript of their chat to Clarence

In the beginning the students were hesitant they did not know how it would work to learn in a connected network. Some of the tools we pointed them to were new to them . All of what we were doing was a new way to approach school. Now I think they get it. They see the potential and want to move ahead and so we can point out tools and we can guide the learning but we are ready to listen and to let them find the right tool for the job. Hmmm …..if I am not worrying about the tools I can focus on planning the learning.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

This one blew my socks off! What a tool!

Okay maybe I am behind the times but if you have never played with TouchGraph you have to give it a try. My technology coordinator just stumbled on it this afternoon and we have spent the last 30 minutes playing with this tool. The possibilities are limitless but even more to the point it seems to be a POWERFUL tool to help teachers uncover resources and to allow older students to find information and discover the way networks interact. One of my concerns as an administrator has always been supporting the teachers and finding ways of opening up to them all of the resources that are available for their curricular content. One of the stumbling blocks is the vast number of hits you get with a standard Google search and the time consuming activity of refining searches for each component of you lesson. Enter TouchGraph which provides a visual representation of resources networked around topics or URLs.

You absolutely have to try it to understand but the concept is straight forward. You create a visual network which allows you to see related concepts and a whole variety of resources in an incredibly easy to navigate interface. The visual representation is much easier to work with than pages and pages of hits from a google search and it allows you to move into the deep layers very quickly. So for example if you put in "California history" or "Sahara Desert" the program generates a graphic map of the network around these topics showing a wide variety of subtopics and related links. My test search for Sahara desert immediately revealed a whole host of hubs including images, physical characteristics and subtopics like animals of the desert. The graphic representation is interactive and by clicking on an orbiting sub topic that link then becomes a hub leading you to other linked information. When you click on the "+" in the circle in the upper left corner you will have a link to the URL and further description of that resource. It also worked well with the topic "3rd grade Math".

You also have the ability to manipulate and save a particular graphic representation. I have not been quite as excited about any tool recently as I am about this one. For students this has tremendous potential to deepen their research and assure that they do not just stick with the first things they find on Google. It also helps them to understand the power of the networked information that is now available. For the teachers it puts a whole network of information at their finger tips in a format that will make it infinitely easier for them to access and utilize the resources of this information age. Go and play with this tool and see what you think. Just for fun put in your name and see where that leads. I would love to hear your ideas about how this can be used. it will be the tool of the day for our technology playground this month!

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Color me illiterate!

Becoming a life long learner and globally connected just underscores how much I still need to learn. I was perusing the K12Online schedule today in an effort to plan some staff activities when I had an aha moment. When I taught 6th grade part of my curriculum included world time zones and though I taught it and the kids more or less got it none of us really understood it. Why? Because we had no real use for it! Like I said in my previous post knowledge without context and application is not of much value. So now I am confessing I am functionally illiterate in this area and I am setting out to fix this problem. Yes, I know there are time converters and world clocks but I want more than time conversion I want to understand. I just found out that my time zone is GMT -8 now I need to learn how to use that information!
Photo Credits:by melissambwilkins

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Taking Flight and Learning New Lessons

No time to read or blog has made me feel disconnected. The beginning of the school year has been exceptionally busy but much of it has been good stuff. The connection with Snow Lake is really moving us into some new territory. From an administrative perspective it is really exciting to read the planing going on between our teachers and Clarence on the Moodle site. It is like watching a butterfly take flight! We have worked for over a year on becoming technology literate and this year the staff is ready to fly and the students are reaping the benefits.
Today I caught up on a little reading and two blogs caught my eye. One on LeaderTalk and one I can't find now but both of them talked about the issues of Internet safety. There are lots of great resources out there and I know that almost everybody who is involved in Web2.0 with students addresses this issue. Although we used blogs some last year this year we are involved in a a year long collaboration and we are using all kinds of tools including chat, voicethreads and blogs in our work with Snow Lake.
As the year began we spent a fair amount of time on internet safety. The students did research, they discussed, they prepared brochures, and they made presentations to the parents and to all of the K-8 classrooms. We were impressed with the work they did and how well they presented the material. BUT then we discovered something, it takes practice! Our students knew what the rules were and what to say but they did not translate the head knowledge into practice. With their first few blog posts and their voicethreads we began seeing risky practice. They just had not taken the lessons to heart . We then had them read all of the blog posts and rate them for risk factors. It was a most interesting exercise and many of the students had to edit their blogs. The lesson that I took away from this was how important it is that they have the opportunity to work in the digital world and use their knowledge. It would have been easy to pat ourselves on the back and say "Wow the kids gave great talks on Internet Safety" . But what good is talk without a personal context and practice. At the Junior High level the concrete reasoning skills are just beginning to develop and so we will spend the whole year learning about digital citizenship as they continue their work. It is really pretty exciting to consider how important these experiences are to their formation and their future.They just do not get it until they really use it in a setting where someone is helping them to evaluate along the way. I for one feel strongly this is our responsibility. Yes, the parents are the primary educators and they need to be involved in guiding their children, continuing the lesson at home, but connectivity is the portal for learning and so we have to teach them how to enter that world- it is an essential learning space.
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