After watching the opening games in China, I thought it might be impossible for anyone to come close to the spectacular display they put together for opening day. Well, I was wrong, the opening ceremony in Vancouver was stunningly beautiful.
I happened to be tweeting with many others as I was watching the games and that made the viewing experience more enriching. It was fun to have commentary from so many different people. The Olympic games tend to inspire a sense of togetherness by themselves, but watching with Twitter friends made the experience a great place to be. We were laughing and sharing and just having fun.
Over the past few days, I have been tinkering with some technology tools that my students may want to use for their class projects. One tool is Nota pages. The picture on the right is a Nota page I created in just a few minutes. My students used them last year and loved them. Nota pages are easy to create with a ton of possibilities. They are collaborative, so more than one student can edit at the same time. Imagine creating an online posterboard with the ability to add text, shapes, flickr images, personal images, maps, movies, wikipedia information and more. One feature I find really useful is the ability to add sticky note comments that allows me to give instant feedback for editing purposes. Nota pages can be embedded into Blogger and Wikispaces. I use them to make my Wikispaces pages more appealing. One of my Grad students D. Bennett created an amazing diversity collage using Notaland that incorporated video, images, and quotes. That is the beauty of Nota pages, students of all ages can be creative using the available tools.
With all the snow we are expecting, I decided to set up class blogs so my students can do some writing if we have more days off. Some of my students will also be using them for the Civil Rights project we are currently working on. I chose kidblog for several reasons. First, it’s free and we all know teachers love free. Secondly, I can set them up so all postings and comments are approved by me before they are made public. Another reason is the user-friendly interface. I set up my classes in about 20 minutes. I assigned usernames and passwords, a great feature in case my students forget theirs. I think my students will enjoy using the kidblog features. They will be able to add pictures, music and videos in their posts. We have not used blogs in my classes yet, but I am excited to get started. I am hoping that giving them an authentic audience will entice them to write more.
We just began a new initiative during our Common Planning Time (CPT). Every Friday we invite a group of students to come during their lunch period for extra help. The teachers and students gather in my classroom for pizza and conversation first, and then, the students work on Study Island. Yes, we started this initiative for test prep purposes, but I am not going to get too hung up on that because I think it really has become something more. It is a chance to connect with students in a relaxed setting. There is no pressure for the teachers or the students to perform. We are able to talk about things that really matter. We talk about family and friends, about things that are happening in school and out. Let me give you an example of why I think it could be very powerful. One of the students that came yesterday is in my class. She usually works hard in class, is not easily distracted, and is always friendly. In the past two weeks, I have noticed some real changes in her work habits and in her behavior. I pulled her aside after class and told her I was concerned, that I had noticed these changes. I asked her if everything was okay and she told me she was fine. During our mentoring session a little later that day, she shared some information about what was going on. Her mom is ill, and there are concerns about family income. I might never have known what was going on if we were not able to connect in a more relaxed setting. Would she have opened up or what I have to continue to wonder and worry about her? I have been thinking about this a lot.
With just 45 minute class periods and all the pressure to teach the content, we often lose sight of the children sitting in front of us. I am not sure how many of them even make it to school everyday. I would love to find a way to expand this once a week mentoring session, maybe build it into the schedule for next year. I just wonder if it is possible. I think the kids would like it, and I think it would help build school morale. I am not sure how the teachers would feel about being mandated to mentor, or if mandating it is the way to go. I would love your thoughts. Do you have mentoring sessions built into your school schedules? How do they work? Does it make a difference?
What a great day! Today, our Internet was working. After two days of struggling with getting the internet connection in our building fixed, we finally succeeded. Just in the nick of time, since today was our district walk-through. Each month our district sends a team of educators to our school to conduct walk-through observations. The English 3 teachers and the Algebra 2 teachers are always on the visitation list. (Testing) Our walk-through observations have been very successful, with very positive feedback from the team.The positive feedback today was great, but it could never compete with what happened in my classroom.
A few days ago, I wrote about starting a constructivist project with my students. The project was extremely open-ended with very little “must do” criteria. The project relies heavily on the use of technology. Day one was almost my undoing since we couldn’t get connected. Day two was not much better, no internet in my classroom. I called a colleague on the other side of the building and she said her connection was fine. We packed up the computer cart and traveled to an empty classroom. We lost some time but we were finally getting started. Today was a dream come true. My students grabbed their laptops, signed onto the Internet, and began researching their topics. Some students used a graphic organizer I had created to help guide them. It was eerily quiet in my room. The best part of my day was watching them dig right in. My students struggle with independent reading, no matter what the topic. They hate to read in class. Not today, they were reading and searching and asking all the right questions. I am not fooling myself, from here on out the project is going to get much more difficult. The projects they have chosen to create will require analysis and synthesis of the information they are gathering and further critical thinking. I know they will struggle, but I also know they will amaze me with their final products.
Today was a very messy day in my classroom. I presented a project proposal to my students, explained my rationale for keeping it open-ended and challenged them to show everyone, including me that they are capable of directing their own learning. I believe they are up to the challenge, but after today I questioned if I am. After I handed out the proposal form, the students got their laptops from the cart to begin their investigations. No internet. Great. I asked them to push on, to think about what type of product they could create to demonstrate their understanding of their learning. They had no problem with that part of the proposal. Some of their choices were to create movies, raps, essays, blogs, songs, monologues, role-playing and more. They really struggled with having autonomy, with how they would grade their product and they weren’t sure about how to keep track of their progress. That was no surprise and I offered suggestions and past examples to help them. It was not an easy day, but my goal at the beginning of the year was to focus on how my students learn and not on how I teach. My students experienced some real cognitive dissonance, but not one of them told me they didn’t want to keep going. I saw students who have not engaged previously dive in with excitement. There were so many questions, with everyone pulling me in different directions. I was hopping around the room trying to help all my students. I am sure I did not get to everyone, and it would be so easy for me to just scrap the whole project and go back to my original structured plan, but I will push on. Hopefully, tomorrow we will be connected and my students will be able to really dig in and start learning. I am still not sure if this project proposal will work, but that too will be a learning experience. Patience and flexibility is my mantra.
I took this picture on the first day of the new semester. I had rearranged my desks to have a discussion with my students about learning and how they feel about school. We talked about how they could become more engaged in the learning process. I asked them what they would like to do, how they would like to learn. Hopefully, we are moving in the right direction.
You know what good Professional Development does? It makes you think and reflect about your craft. That is exactly what Educon has done for me. I cannot stop thinking! I have been trying to plan a project for my students based on civil rights and the power of non-violent resistance. Then, today it came to me. I had it all wrong. I know that I learn most when I am creating; that was the problem, I was the one doing the creating. I was designing all the steps in the project. Then, I started really thinking about what we as teachers do when we create projects in a step by step manner. Many teachers, myself included, do this because we will have better control over what is happening in our classrooms. We don’t like things to get too loud, too messy, or to take the chance that things might just blow up in our faces. We use arguments, such as, my students need structure, or my students have no intrinsic motivation, or my students just don’t have the skills to direct their own learning.
After thinking and then thinking some more, I decided to do my real job. Our real job is to work harder to help our students gain those skills, to build that motivation, to help them design their own structures to guide their learning. Is it difficult? Sure. Is it necessary? Absolutely. So this teacher is going to step outside her comfort zone. She is going to take a risk and not worry if this lesson is going to blow up in her face. She is not going to worry that it might take a little extra time. What’s the worst thing that can happen? A little chaos can be a good thing, right?
This is a copy of the project I will give my students tomorrow. Any and all comments about how I might make it better are welcome.
A small disclaimer about my photo of the day. I did take pictures today, but thought this one fit the topic better.
Two funny guys. Alec Couros and Dean Shareski are not just funny, they are also great thinkers. Here are two men who put themselves out there, constantly pushing educational reform from the pre-service teacher level. They drive others to think about their practices as teachers and leaders. In our session, Dean emphasized the importance of being a reflective learner, not just a reflective teacher. Alec spoke about his willingness to share personal family moments with the world and how that has become the glue that makes his network work for him, enabling him to help others get connected.
This session really had me thinking about the reality of what so many of us experience on Twitter. Many people in my PLN have been on twitter for several years, they are uber-connected. Some like myself, are just beginning to realize the potential of our PLN connections. Experiences like Educon 2.2, organized by Chris Lehmann and Diana Laufenberg help all of us come together. They are powerful conversations that connect brand new teachers like @profespringer who is openly reflecting on his teaching and learning practice, experienced educators who are just making the leap into open-connected classrooms, state level representatives who are looking for ways to reform higher-ed practices, pre-service teachers who are preparing to take the leap, and educators like Dean and Alec who push us to think and act.
We talk about how we can reform education. We are reforming education through both face-to- face and online communication. We are pushing the envelope when we have role-models like Alec and Dean who connect with the new people who pop into their network. We are moving things forward when we are excited about what we learn and take it back into our classrooms and physical school buildings. Is it happening fast enough for us, perhaps not, but it is happening. Five-hundred educators from all over came together on their own time, and many on their own dollar, to make the educational experience for our students better. There were also many more who attended virtually. We are making progress. We are learning as we go, but we are learning.
Thanks Alec and Dean for helping this educator reflect on her learning.