Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 in review

Well today is the last day of 2014 and, as always, a time of reflection. This year, I have limited my time online, more because of life circumstances than through inclination.

So what have I learned in 2014? I have experienced the loss of loved ones. I have continued to deal with the impact of illness on one's family. My parents have moved from the family home. I have started a new job far from my family. I have tried to maintain my connections online. And I cannot do it all well, so the first thing to go was my online presence. And yet, when I needed a break, when I needed to be creative, when life seemed a little overwhelming, I turned to my online world first.

There were many projects I would have liked to have created this past year- radio shows being first and foremost (I love DS106radio), some movies, gifs and posts as well. Writing I didn't do, stories I didn't finish. I didn't engage in #ccourses at all! I was barely present in #oclmooc even though I was a co-conspirator (though I did finish all my work for my presentation for the last week I still haven't sent in my info for the online bio!) and I didn't even publish a reflection about any of my experiences. That doesn't mean I didn't learn anything, I just didn't share my learning. Does that means it didn't happen? In a world of testing and reflecting and sharing, maybe. (So have I regressed to be a lurker again?) But the solace and pleasure I took from interacting infrequently online was enough. The fun of playing #TVSZ 6.0 brightened my spirits for weeks. My educational community can do that for me.

I'd like to thank everyone I interacted with over 2014. We may never met except virtually but I have treasured the experience. May the next year be one of learning, loving and creating. May your troubles be small and your blessings many.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


'Huh?' I expect you're thinking. What is #dragonbovine? It's a team in the latest installment of #TvsZ. In 6.0, the original teams were #teamnature and #teamtechnology, a new twist on the game. And #dragonbovine is a further hack of this change. Players took the 'game' into their own hands, creating new teams such as Fish or Alpha Wolf. And Dragons.And that's the beauty of #TvsZ. It can be hacked, players can move in different directions than expected by the designers of the game, but because the rules are simple, there is an official keeping the mayhem to a minimum, the game is only limited by the imagination of the players. I have yet to see an unsuccessful game of #TvsZ because of its ability to mutate into the game the players want to play. Add the ability to make the game a platform for learning new skills and connecting with others only enhances its allure in my eyes. Gaming and learning new skills? Yes please!

Where did the Bovines come from? Out of the brilliant mind of Rochelle Lockridge. She suggested we form our own group. We were going to be the Burgerons, named after a story family created by various collaborators for DS106. It quickly morphed into the Bovines (how I don't know) but I can be a cow for a few days. Within a few hours though, talks began between #teamdragon and #teambovine and the #dragonbovines were born. As always, Kevin Hodgson's comic genius and suggestions for different tools for collaboration helped solidify our team.

Who can resist a flying, flame spewing cow? I can't! And as a team, we worked collaboratively building a mythology, communicating our #dragonbovine ethos (if dragons and cows can work together, surely humans should be able to! Thanks Janine DeBaise!) and #recruiting others to our side. We produced some fabulous work together and had a blast.

I admit, I now have a fondness for drawing flying Holsteins.

A different type of #TVSZ but as always an immensely valuable playing and learning experience.

P.S. On a side note, #TvsZ had its usual positive influence on my work ethos. I have an iPhone (my first Apple product!) and I am still trying to figure everything out. Playing #TvsZ helped me learn a little bit more about using this piece of technology.

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.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Books is Making Me Stupid

Confession time: I still haven't watched the video for topic #4. Instead I made a video on, you guessed it, "Books is Making Me Stupid." The title seemed appropriate.

Since the question/statement has been rattling around in my brain all week I started to write some thoughts down (walking the dog is my time for clarifying thoughts!) I then recorded it using Audacity and hunted around on Freesound for some background music. But none of the music matched the rhythm of what I had sung. So I just started looking for jazz instrumentals that had an underlying beat. I played the music, while I spoke the song. It's not perfect (there is some squealing in the background which came from I know not where) but overall I was pretty pleased with it. You'll notice that the final is different from the original.

Now there are some things I wanted to do differently in terms of the images I chose, but two things happened: a Windows 8.1 upgrade (yuck!) and sheer laziness. (I just didn't want to be bothered hunting around for software that strips the sound off the video and leaves me the video alone, I always seem to pick up a virus, it was late, I was tired, Windows was hurting my brain, yada, yada, yada.) So instead I just went to Goodreads, plugged in the different words, picked a book that tickled my fancy and just worked on the timings in Movie Maker. For the videos I just went online (I knew I was going to use a still from Zoolander), except for the last clip of Mariana Funes, who graciously sent it to me so I could work on a zombie video. I was having trouble finding the steamed image, when I remembered how wispy Mariana's video was and decided to use a chunk for my video. Thanks goodness for my time in DS106 that gave me some background in making a video!

So here's my final product. As always, the video seems to look and sound so much better in Movie Maker. In YouTube the music in the background is fainter. Oh well.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I am uncomfortable....

with this week's topic! "Is books making us stupid?" Now I haven't even watched Dave's video and I haven't read anyone's post because in my mind I am thinking "Uh, no?!" and "Fix the grammar!" So I know Dave is being deliberately provocative to try and make me challenge some long held assumptions about literacy and reading, books and the idea of fixed knowledge. So I'm uncomfortable and really reluctant to go there- to engage at all. After all, I am a readaholic- I always have at least 3 or 4 books on the go. There is not a day that I do not read something, even if it's drivel. But I am also driven by curiosity to know what Dave has posted. Honestly, I completely understand Pandora!

But the statement alone "Is books making us stupid?" does speak to me on so many levels. First, of course, is the idea that books are a source of fixed knowledge- that once written down, it is finished. Except at its heart this idea is false. Any writing, and therefore any written idea, is fluid. Volumes are edited, abridged, reworked, rewritten, lost and then found (think Shakespeare, the great borrower and the great influencer- the ultimate in recycling of ideas!) The fact that an idea is written down gives us time, as the reader, to mull over in our minds what the writer means to convey. The beauty of it is that as soon as the thought is coalesced into writing it is no longer the property of the writer but the reader. Each of us, when we approach a text bring a different viewpoint, life experiences and cultural dynamic to bear. We shouldn't expect to engage in understanding text the same way, because we are different people.

As to those who read and cannot find the "correct" meaning as according to the educational powers that be, good for you! If you can articulate your point of view and derive a different meaning from a text, that is as it should be. As far as I am concerned, your perspective is valid (after all, you're reading the writing of someone who loathes "Waiting for Godot" supposedly the best play of the 20th century! What about Pinter? Or "Rhinoceros"?)  As well, different words, especially in English, have multiple meanings and multiple interpretations. I find that as I get older, my writing and language usage is becoming archaic (Karen the dinosaur!) Does this mean that I am a poor communicator or that I should stop writing? And reading?

And how can books be making us stupid, when the internet runs off of text? Text messages, blogs, visual presentations, email, Twitter, reviews all rely on our ability to interact with text. Or perhaps books and text are making us stupid because we have stopped listening to each other? And yet, if that were true why is YouTube, Skype and Google+ hangout and radio such communication mainstays?

As educators, our challenge is to make sure that our students are comfortable engaging with text as well as the spoken word and other forms of media. Reading is such an immense hurdle for so many students and writing even more daunting. Is that because we assume there is a "right way" to interact with text? A right way to write? As an elementary teacher, I've had some brilliant students, gifted at writing and reading, in understanding the contextual meaning as defined by what the ministry has determined a book means, etc., etc. But I've also had some students who are gifted, imaginative writers who cannot spell and grammar eludes. To them I say, keep writing! (Hire a good editor!) Because in the end, what we really are trying to develop in each student is their gift or talent in the area of communication.

Next stop? Dave's video!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Uncertain, Uncertainty and I don't know!

I sometimes wonder why I bother to write my thoughts down as there are so many thoughtful responses and replies to the "uncertainty" question Dave Cormier posted this week in #rhizo14. Often I write to clarify my own thoughts on my path to figuring out the "I don't know, but I hope to find out/understand." And I read from the community to help me in that process and also from the sheer delight of seeing how other people think, because it is not how I think.

There is Kevin's excellent post on how he views uncertainty which marries nicely with my ideas about change. It helps that one of the books that was recommended during ETMOOC (I think) was the "The Half Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know has an Expiration Date" by Samuel Arbesman. What we learn changes and mutates over time, as does what we teach. Where's Latin, for example? I only got one year of Latin because there were not enough students who wanted to take it ( I loved Latin too!) And yet Latin was the staple of higher education 100 years ago.

I loved Jaap Bosman's post about the place of wonderment in uncertainty. I know I feel anxious and frustrated as I learn new things, but also exhilarated and I am soooo pleased with myself when I finally understand how something works. Learning something is rather like opening a present (and I rip my presents open rather than try and save the wrapping paper, though that has been changing too as I grow older!)

Lou Northern's discussion about the place of ego and it's barrier to being open to uncertainty was a great read but I, like Frances Bell, was struck by this phrase "What am I assuming that makes me so sure that I’m right?" I love this.

But really, I am not sure about the idea of embracing uncertainty. Life is uncertain at its core and the only way we have to deal with it's very unpredictable-ness is by clinging to certainties. When we teach in the elementary panel, we are encouraged to create a place of safety for the learner. Isn't that in conflict with the idea of embracing uncertainty? For life and sometimes learning are not safe. Can we only embrace uncertainty at a certain age? When we have internalized the reality of living in an uncertain world?

Certain things are certain for now. The sun will rise and fall, everything born will die, gravity still works, ice is cold. So should we only teach the concrete, for only that is true and all else, fleeting and ephemeral?

I don't know.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Enforced Independence/Learned Helplessness

So this week in Rhizo#14 (Rhizomatic Learning) we've been asked to discuss Enforced Independence or what happens when we give people the opportunity to make educational choices in what they choose to learn, how they approach tasks and complete/not complete the given task. Dave said, "Once you give people freedom it's hard to take it back." To me, the question also seems to be "how to get people to reflect about the education system as a whole." Lately I think the education system is more about teaching learned helplessness than teaching independence.

So this is the starting point: Dave Cormier's video

There are so many good ideas to discuss in this vlog it's hard to know where to start. I found myself nodding my head as I watched the video. So many of his observations are in tandem with the way I view the education system. Here to me is the meat of the discussion. I've paraphrased what Dave has said.

"They need to be independent , they need to be responsible for their own learning. They need to be able to self assess and self re-mediate. They need to ask, "I don't know how to do this. I am going to figure it out.
I don't know what this is. I am going to find out what it is." So they can participate in a community.
You can't have any type of freedom unless you're independent enough to do those tasks."

"We have crushed that out of our education system."

We, as educators, take small children, whose conversation can be summed up with "why, what, how, etc." and Dave's question of "I don't know how to do this. I don't know what this is. I am going to find out what it is," and knock it out of them so that we can add it back at a later date. And then we wonder why it's so hard to do this. We, as participants in the current system, help create learners who are helpless, incapable of exercising their curiosity and afraid to ask questions and explore. This is why some elementary teachers are now focusing on issues of self regulation in the class. And students turn around when you do this. But it's not enough to hand kids back the ability to regulate their physical bodies (though the idea of having a classroom of 7 year olds glued to their chair all day never made sense to me.) What about what they want to learn? Genius Hour is one example of allowing students freedom from the curriculum. And students learn to self assess and self re-mediate. How to ask good questions and find resources.

And isn't that really what our job as teachers, parents and mentors are? To be able to show children how to do something and then stand back and watch them learn?

So the real question we need to ask is, what are we afraid of when we hand over the task of learning to the learner?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

'The underbelly of education according to Karen'

I learn best when I work with others. I talk my way to learning. I need the discourse to help me refine my ideas and to open up new avenues of thought and connections. My entire learning history is based on fusing my thoughts with the thoughts of others. So from that perspective I've always been a "cheater." In the spirit of my need to connect I ran my ideas by Mariana Funes who has turned me onto the blog of Jose Luis Serrano and my good friend Rhonda Jessen where she also writes about cheating as a weapon in school.

So, I am a complete failure as a student. Just so you know upfront. My report cards in elementary school read something like this: Term 1- A, Term 2-B, Term 3-D. This started in Grade 1. I knew school wasn't really for me when I got into trouble for writing my own sentences, instead of copying the ones that Mrs. Lynch had written. And I was so angry that I couldn't write my own sentences and still get credit for it. I banged my head against that particular wall for years. Every report card read "needs to apply herself." And I talked too much. I didn't "try" hard enough.

Well, of course I didn't try! What was the point? I wasn't allowed to learn what I wanted to learn and express myself in the way I wanted to express myself and don't get me started about my inability to finish projects on time because of my obsessive compulsive need to make everything "perfect" (I've sort of got over that-maybe.) So I "failed" my way through elementary and then "failed' my way through secondary. It's not that I couldn't do the work, I just didn't want to do it. I did what interested me and left the rest. I made sure that I would pass all the exams and when I could, I would negotiate with my teachers a different way to do the assignment- something that made sense to me and was interesting to do. I was learning some of the time, but I wasn't happy and almost left school (only the threat of not being able to go to university kept me there.) I was the despair of my teachers. I was told that I would be incapable of completing university. But I applied anyway and got in. I explained my erratic marks to "stresses" at home. (Which was true enough, but not the real reason.)

So finally I was at university, the promised land of learning. Where I would be able to speak my mind, write what I really thought and pursue all of my various passions (according to my mother, who had gone to university in England.) Ha! Was I sold a bill of goods! Same old, same old. No, I was not allowed to disagree with the professor, no, I was not allowed to modify an assignment so it was more meaningful to me, no, do not write what you think, hand everything in on time, you must take this course to graduate, etc. etc. My undergraduate experience was shaping up to be a repeat of K-12. Except, as I took year three and year four courses suddenly I was allowed, no encouraged, to start writing what I was thinking, to modify assignments, to question (but not disagree with) the professor (as my sister says, you are allowed to savage other students with your intellect but not the professor.) But the damage had already been done. I had failed so often that when a legitimate life issue caused me to need to leave some courses mid-term, I was rusticated. A big academic black mark! I went back, finished up and thought, "no more university for me."

Less than four years later, I was back, starting my first Masters in a completely separate field. How? I was admitted on an undergraduate basis and just slid over to the Masters while no one was looking. I never completed that Masters because we moved before I could finish it. When I applied for my teaching degree I was admitted on probation. (I had that big black mark! And I didn't have any university credits in English and I had too many in science!) By then, I was in my thirties, and knew how to game the system.

The first thing to understand about school, and by this I mean all school, is that in its present iteration it's a power game. You, as the student, have no power. You may think that you do, but you don't. Always hand your work in on time, even if it is not as good as you would like. Disagree with your professor at your peril (I still did it (do it!) but I knew there would be consequences and there always are.) It's always better to nod and agree. Keep your answers short and don't explain your thinking, except in an essay format and even then, don't venture into territory that might lose you marks. Be thankful for the professors who are open minded, not into power games and willing to discuss ideas with you. Find a good study group that understands your need to talk out your thinking and share. Drop a course as soon as you see A) the professor doesn't like you because they'll mark you down or if you start B) getting sleepy when they talk (My Cultural Anthropology professor had a soft monotone voice and class was right after lunch in a darkened auditorium (I ended up taking it three times!) or C) You violently disagree with everything they say. You'll fail. I meet with professors before a class now to vet them to see if we'll mesh.

And be prepared to cheat. Because you have no power, how else do you balance the system? Some students copied others work (sometimes without permission), others shared past exams they'd managed to score (guilty!), we all ended up in study groups to support each other, still others had friends do their homework for them (I've done friends homework). Coles Notes? Used them. I passed an exam using them and never read the book. I abhorred those who go the library and clear out the bookshelves of resources or deface books so no one else could have access to the information but I understood the reasoning. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair, but I did understand. Because, as I've said before, the education system really isn't about inspiring a love of learning, it's about understanding who holds the power and doing what you need to succeed since your future is often based on school success.

You see, this is the problem. We're told as children to share, work together, help each other, that life is fair and equitable. But it's not. You can play by the rules, follow a rubric, swallow your ideas and still find yourself wondering "What did I do wrong this time?" Because the system isn't fair.

So how could've my educational journey been different? How might my story have changed if the system had been more aligned to supporting actual learning and creativity instead of some government/business idea of what education should accomplish for the betterment of society? I still ended up being a life long learner and even a teacher, despite knowing that the system is warped. (Though I did think of quiting half way through the teaching program because of the possibility of becoming "one of them." Sort of like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) And isn't sad that, while people participating in Rhizomatic Learning 2014 and the open education movement are trying to smush students lightly, the vast majority of our colleagues are still trying to wedge their students into that tightly controlling box called the education system. #rhizo14

Thursday, 16 January 2014

ETMOOC Anniversary and Noam Chomsky

Well, Tuesday January 14th was like old home week as the ETMOOCers gathered around our twitter feed (#etmchat/#etmooc) and chatted about what we had accomplished since starting ETMOOC. Quite a buzz! Some people described it as a high school reunion! As always it was a pleasure to share and discuss different ideas.

After the chat, I was energized as I always am after an ETMOOC exchange of ideas. I am currently reading Noam Chomsky's "Chomsky on Mis Education" and after the twitter chat several of the ideas he was discussing really struck a chord with me. They explain why the ETMOOC community is so strong and why we all feel that it has been such a powerful learning tool. Chomsky mentioned, while writing about John Dewey and his approach to education that, "education is not to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water but, rather, assisting a flower to grow in its own way...In other words, providing the circumstances in which the normal creative patterns will flourish." (pg 38)

Everyone learnt that one in teacher's college, right, but how often do we see it happen? Well, it happened in ETMOOC and it happens in DS106 everyday. So using social media tools to connect, share and collaborate allows for the 'normal creative patterns' to flourish. What connected communities like ETMOOC and DS106 allow to happen is for us, as academics, teachers, administrators and trainers is to throw off the shackles of curriculum, 'what you should learn/do/know' and actually play and make our own meaning without fear of judgement. It allows us to grow in our own way.

The other interesting aspect of ETMOOC and other connected learning I've participated in (CLMOOC, Open Spokes, Headless13, etc.) is that it promotes a "free association on terms of equality and sharing and cooperation, participating on equal terms to achieve common goals that were democratically conceived." (pg 39) ETMOOC had us working, playing and learning on the same level. The hierarchy of the school structure vanished and we all worked together for both common goals (lipdub) as well as our own personal learning goals. According to Chomsky this produces "free human beings." Certainly I feel as if I've been released from bondage. I may never go back to regular school again! (Oh well, no PhD for me!) I wonder what elementary school would look like if we approached education in this manner? And would society be willing to let children play their way to learning?