Monday, 29 September 2014

Why I Connect

So right now I am playing in the spaces of #ccourses and #olcmooc and both are dealing with the 'why' of connected learning. Of course, the glib response would be 'why not?' but this is a serious, serious question that deserves a considered, reflective answer.

I wasn't always a connected learner. I haven't been a formal classroom teacher for years but I remember well the isolation of the elementary classroom, the one adult in a room full of students. I was the "font of all knowledge," the "guru of learning through play," but essentially I was alone. When I ran into a student I could not reach, I turned to colleagues for help, my principal or a specialist. Sometimes that was not enough. I did not have all answers, but I felt like a failure when I did not. When a student slipped through my fingers like water and I could not catch them as they fell. Some had been falling for a long time. Some had just started to fall. But the responsibility rested on me to catch them and sometimes I missed.

So why am I such a big rah-rah fan of connected learning? Because teachers/educators no longer have to be isolated in the classroom. They have a bigger pond to cast their net into now as they fish for answers. I can ask fellow educators, K-12 or higher ed, professors of education, social workers, informal educators, designers, techies, "What would you do in this situation?" or "What resources should I access?" or just a simple one "Help!" And lo! I actually receive answers, helpful answers, potential ideas or requests for more information. Educators want to help each other. Now it's not just you, alone in your classroom, it's you and everyone you're connected to, working together to help others learn.

Since I've become connected I've learned that I can contact designers of  programs when I have issues with the program they've just rolled out (and they listen!), written collaborative stories, poems, games, had someone teach me the basics of programming, learned to create a radio show, worked with others to create learning solutions for problems and met, online, some amazingly talented and creative people. I've vlogged, blogged and tweeted my way through this journey. This has been wonderful for me as I play and learn my way through new experiences but it has had the effect, I believe, of making me a better teacher. Because who doesn't learn when they brush up against greatness? When they are presented with differing viewpoints? When learning opportunities are offered like a never ending smorgasbord?

So how do you take advantage of this? Open your mind, open your heart and discard your prejudices of being exposed on the web. Yes, there will be bumps along the way, but it was the same when you learned a new language or a new talent in a face to face classroom. It never does come effortlessly. There is always work involved, frustration to feel, anger at something not quite working or feeling like you're stupid, stupid, stupid! Until of course, something clicks, someone offers a different perspective and then your feel like your brain has been just hit by a ray of sunshine and you've got it!

So jump in, don't be fearful, people are kind and open minded in this learning space.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Why I teach

So #ccourses this week has asked the question why do I teach? And the answer is: Do I still teach? I am an instructional designer now rather than a face to face classroom educator. And I've never taught at a university, though I do teach adults. Now I create self contained online lessons that have both a knowledge portion, "This is how you do this.", and a testing function, "Show that you understand the skills that were just demonstrated and can apply them." The adults who view my offering have no choice in whether they wish to receive them as it is part of their job to watch and learn the tasks as instructed. So is that still teaching? Or is it skills training? Or an amalgam of both?

Why do I teach? Why do I still identify myself always as an educator? My 'why' is that to explore with others is integral to who I am as a person. Yes I explore ideas by myself constantly. But for me and this held true even when I was an elementary teacher, the learning journey is so much richer when it is a shared journey. Because it is a journey of asking questions and exploring the answers together. Because my perspective is narrow and comes from only my experiences and the knowledge I've garnered through study. Only when I open myself up to other perspectives do I really soar as a thinker and a learner. I always think better when discussing ideas.

So for me connecting is an entrenched learning style. And I am also at the point in my learning where I decide my level of engagement. By that I mean, does the learning opportunity actually ask me to be engaged and creative and produce something that brings meaning to my life and the lives of others? Or does is only ask that I absorb and judge?

I've been to a lot of universities. I am an older woman after all. And I've learned to play the university game- shut up, listen, discuss in the approved manner (deferring ever to the professor's biases), regurgitate, write, test. First time round, I was a miserable failure at this. I was young and had been told that university was where I would really learn things. And I did, but I also learned that what I thought really didn't matter. And I rebelled. And when I did, my marks suffered. In this way university was a repeat of high school. Only when I went back to university in my thirties and forties did I understand how to play the game and play I did. I needed the degrees for work (that's a big why!) I still got my hand slapped when I fell off the wagon and actually wrote or spoke what I really thought and once again it would show up in my grades. I call it the 'how dare you contradict me' problem. I do contradict. I do question. Why is this so and this not so?

Just like a K-12 classroom educator, the professor is the final adjudicator of a student's capability. But if you thought the power relationship is one sided in K-12, it is even more uneven in higher ed. Because in K-12, there is more monitoring of the teachers, an approved curriculum that must be followed, there are parent teacher interviews to be conducted, constant student and teacher assessment, follow ups, no fail policies, etc. In university, it is very different. I've been in courses where there have been three assignments in total to judge if a student is successful. And what happens to the student who disagrees with their professor? Or who is not a great writer but a great speaker? Bad marks, the opportunity of advancement denied, a career change, a path not taken.

I'm ok with student mutiny. I am ok with exploring areas that were not planned. So for me, the sooner professors learn to be a guide at the side of their students (an old elementary teacher strategy from the late 90's) instead of the sage on the stage the better off I think all higher education institutions will be.

Friday, 12 September 2014

So let's Compare and Contrast



So here's the thing. This appeared on my Facebook feed today. A Grade 6 Washington D.C. teacher assigned her class a compare and contrast assignment and there has been major back lash because she was using a Scholastic text about Hitler and WWII to contrast with an article written about George W. Bush and the Iraq War, a text the school board admits was used the previous year in a separate unit.


So where is the issue? What is the fuss about? Have we not been using compare and contrast as a tool to promote higher order thinking skills for a while now in classrooms? Or was it because politics have gotten in the way? Or because the president in question is still living? Has American society (and perhaps Canadian as well) become so polarized that even a classroom discussion contrasting events cannot be envisioned? Or was the furor over the idea that behaviour we consider most extreme, like that of Hitler, should be compared to anyone at all? Then how do we talk about Stalin, Mao or Genghis Khan? The teacher has been reprimanded for using poor judgement even though both texts have been approved by the board.


So was this an exercise that should have been left for a higher grade level? Or was it the idea that questioning past historical events is not acceptable? Would a compare and contrast between Andrew Jackson, he of the Trail of Tears and Hitler have been acceptable? Or between Sir John A. MacDonald and his policy of starving the natives and Hitler been ok? When do we discuss eugenics? The cleansing of people with developmental delays through sterilization in Canada? Residential schools? Using aboriginals in starvation experiments? The internment of the Japanese in World War II and the internment of Germans in the Great War in Canada and the US? How do we discuss war, genocide, hate literature and the general ugly side of human behaviour in class and at what grade if this simple compare and contrast exercise is abjured?


Are not we, as teachers, required to look under the rocks of history and peer at subjects that are difficult to discuss? Because if we don't discuss them, challenge enshrined beliefs and ask our students to look objectively at issues of the day, what will we discuss with them? And if part of our role is to encourage citizenship, critical analysis and critical thought how do we do that when we can't even ask the questions?

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Kingston CoderDojo and Connected Courses

So I've been offline for a while for various reasons, the main one being I am of that age when parents need more care and support and this has been a support summer, from that perspective. Thank goodness my parents' health is now good and they have moved onto the next stage of their lives without too many problems.

In the meantime, in 2013, I approached the Kingston Frontenac Public Library about creating a CoderDojo and this fall we will be launching the pilot project for students ages 11-17 in October! Volunteers are always welcome! It is the first small city in Canada to set up a CoderDojo so I would love for this project to become a template for other small cities throughout Canada.

As well, many thanks to Mariana Funes for suggesting Connected Courses for the fall. Time to jump back into postETMOOC as well. I admit my creative juices are a little depleted and I need an injection of connected learning! So I am looking forward to being creative and engaged.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

#TVSZ 4.0

Now I am big fan of #TVSZ, a zombie twitter game as you may or not know. I've written about it here and here. I've created movies (sadly more than one!) about zombies. So you can tell that I think #TVSZ is an wonderful learning experience. The brainchild of Jesse Stommel and Pete Rorabaugh it is a petri dish of online learning.

Now let me explain why you should play #TVSZ 4.0 if you have never indulged. This round of play starts Friday June 20th, 2014!

1. It's a game. This means it's fun. It's not an obligation, it is play. And like all play, the learning is not always effortless but it is driven by the compulsion to participate, which means the learner moves forward over the obstacles because of their desire to participate fully. What are the benefits? Through play I learned to:

  • Use Twitter and Tweetdeck effectively
  • Attach a picture to a tweet
  • Make a sound recording and attach it to a tweet
  • Make a movie using Popcorn Maker
And what was so wonderful was these were skills that were transferable! So by playing #TVSZ it opened up a whole host of other learning opportunities. I've been reaping the rewards ever since.
 
2. Creative production. Since #TVSZ is played on the web, to play you must communicate. This means that to play effectively you end up writing stories, taking photos, creating videos, making music, etc. as the game evolves. To play wholeheartedly you must produce and often to a deadline. If you've ever participated in DS106, they use a similar method of stimulating creativity. Within my blog are lots of #TVSZ posts I wrote while playing #TVSZ 3.0. They were silly, but fun. Some of my writing was, dare I say it, elegant, over the subject of zombie feeding habits.

3. Friendship. Truly an unexpected side benefit of #TVSZ. Who knew that being a member of the zombie hoard would be so life affirming? I am still in communication a year and half later with the people I bonded with playing #TVSZ 2.0. And that has been enriching my life ever since.

4. Learning. With #TVSZ you are learning constantly because the rules change every 12 to 24 hours. There is no complacency in this game so you must be flexible and adaptable. And aren't those the qualities we want to nurture in ourselves and our students?  

I look forward eagerly to every game of #TVSZ as another opportunity to learn, create and play. Register here for #TVSZ 4.0. And have fun!




 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Education and Autism

It's World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism and pervasive developmental disorder is a personal part of my life because one of my nephews, a lovely boy named Henry, was diagnosed with autism when he was five. I have to admit when he was a toddler I only saw him a few times because we lived far away, but I no sign of any disorder at that time. But by the time I moved closer to home in 2009 it was obvious that Henry had communication and attention issues. He lives in Ontario where it takes a shameful amount of time for diagnosis and to get access to treatment. In Henry's case, over three years between the diagnosis and action. Three very critical years. It is lucky for Henry that he is intelligent, taught himself to read by the time he was 5 years old and that our family as a group works very hard at fostering communication skills. But that isn't enough. 

What was missing in Henry's life was the school component/social component. Henry, prior to enrolling in the school he's in now, was having a great deal of difficulty in school. JK and part of Kindergarten was completed in a regular school, where they believed he needed to be sent to a behaviour class (this was prior to the diagnosis.) They also didn't believe that Henry had taught himself how to read. The rest of kindergarten and Grade 1 was completed in a Waldorf type school environment. A small class, focusing on life/social skills, where Henry thrived but also began to wonder when he was going to a "real" school. Since there was no nearby Waldorf school and given Henry's wish to go to a "real" school he transferred to a local school at the end of Grade 1. The principal was welcoming and so was the teacher. Grade 2 was great. Henry still had problems, as he doesn't like to write or do math and he has no understanding of social boundaries and touching. But his Grade 2 teacher knew he had ability and pushed him to do what he didn't like and so did his aide. But Henry didn't have any friends and in fact a fellow student broke his collarbone by picking him up and throwing him to the ground. Grade 3 (this year) has been not so good. A different teacher, a different aide, and the inclusion in his class of the student who broke his collarbone has made this year in this particular school much less successful. Henry is easiest to deal with when he is left to read and so that is what they have been doing. Once again, there is talk of sending him to the "special class" since he has not improved in regards to understanding social space and stopping the inappropriate touching of people (he really likes belt buckles and belly buttons).

So why am I hopeful for Henry? For a number of reasons. At Christmas, Henry got to play with his cousins for three weeks (they live in Australia, so we do not get to see them often). They are the same age. He noticeably improved in his social behaviour because of that interaction. And in February, after three years of waiting, Henry was finally been placed in a school where he can thrive. Three days a week he is in the new school and two days a week he is in his old school. Suddenly he is excited to go to the new school. He has friends, real friends. And the work he is being requested to do appeals to him. The government will help fund this opportunity for one year but I hope for Henry's sake it is for longer. 

My questions are many. Why does it take the Ontario government so long to diagnose and provide services for autistic children? Why do teachers, all teachers, not have training in how to create a truly inclusive classroom?  Why is special education taught as an ABQ (Additional Basic Qualification) instead of part of basic teacher training across Canada? My sister showed me the potential training the Ontario government was going to originally give to Henry's regular classroom teacher prior to making the decision to offer him a place in his new school. It was a booklet. That's frightening. 

Finally, why do we continue, as a society, to judge what is "normal" and what is not? One day I hope we will stop marginalizing anyone who is not like us or is different. As teachers, we should be at the forefront of creating a warm welcoming space for all of our students and demonstrating that different is ok. It is interesting how social media is becoming a vehicle for shrinking our differences. Witness this link that Sheri Edwards sent me a few days ago. I am sharing it here. Thanks Sheri!

P.S Another link Sheri sent me!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Oral vs Written

I have finally watched the week four video. One last thought before I move to week five on the idea of "Is books making us stupid?" I write for many reasons. To keep records, to list what needs to be done for the day, to communicate with others, to work out my thoughts, for the sheer joy of a cleverly turned phrase.

Dave is right about the distance of writing, but wrong to think that this is somehow a cheat or dishonest in terms of communication. I think the reverse. I think that because one has to consciously think about what one is going to write, one is actually self censoring prior to writing as well as editing once it is down on paper. I am glad of that objectivity, glad of that distance. Too often words spoken in haste lead to unhappiness. Interpretation of oral words is just as culturally biased as reading is. Are we just celebrating the immediacy of the spoken word vs. the thoughtfulness of the written? The preference for the engaged immediacy of the spoken word can be as dishonest a cheat as the written word for are we truly truthful when we speak? And do we remember what was actually said or what we think was said? Is any communication truthful then? Or just simply truth as I know it and interpret it?

How is the give and take within an educational community any different? I have been present during some fabulous lectures, but most likely the ideas were synthesized after both reading information, discussion with peers and the application of practice. And I expect the lecture was written down first, prior to delivery. In a round robin discussion, how many times have I seen them veer off course because they have gotten bogged down in semantics or the inability to communicate a larger idea or guide the discussion? Sometimes groups mesh as an engaged community, sometimes they don't. Communication, like all human endeavors, is a flawed one.

This year I will be married for thirty years. As I look back, many of our arguments and fights were over our inability to adequately communicate our ideas verbally, by improperly interpreting the other's words, expressions and making assumptions as to meaning. A part of our life together has been lived apart due to his career. A phone call could lead to hurt, while a letter soothed the sting because we could explain ourselves fully. In a letter, I could explain what was in my heart and head, I could express my anger, hurt, love, loneliness and all of the other emotions that encompassed our relationship at that time.

I think, and this is an assumption, is that Dave is asking us, in the same way Prof. Sicoly (my research and methods prof) used to do, is to not make assumptions. To take every item of truth that we hold dear, whether written or oral and question it. And to remember that long after the spoken word has gone silent and no longer reverberates in our head, that the written word has a very long life span.