Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Art or Artisan? Thoughts around teaching

This post lives on Mark Carbone's blog. He, Derek Rhodenizer, and I chatted recently on what defines "the art of teaching".  Thanks also to Stephen Hurley for hosting us on VoicEd Radio.


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Case for Retweets

I sometimes feel like the same things pop up on Twitter over and over again. I look to Twitter for innovative technologies, new ideas in education, or great reading to push my thinking. There are moments when I don't find anything that grabs my attention as something to explore; I feel like I see the same things being shared multiple times....and that's when I stop and think.

1. Consider a metaphor, where transportation equals learning; everyone travels differently.  Some walk leisurely down a quiet country path, embracing the peace that is stirred only by a single songbird in a tree; others blast through subway tunnels, high on the anticipation of where the trains may take them; still others are welding a supersonic, time-travelling submarine in their garage, preparing for a mind-blowing journey.  Each journey is valid, and has value for the traveller.

2. What may be a familiar idea to me, may be brand new, exciting, and motivating for someone else. I joined Twitter to be part of a Learning Network; I should contribute as a team player to augment others' learning. You may not need to read at length about a new tool or pedagogical practice; don't let that govern whether or not you retweet. Someone in your PLN is likely to find this tweet useful and valuable.

While it can at times be tedious to wade through the current, your "aha" tweet, retweeted by someone else, will float by any time soon.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Leverage Google Hangouts in class

Today at CATC Camp, a group of 30 educators took part in a discussion about online assessment tools. During the chat, we invited in Sandra from Sesame to answer any specific questions about this tool. She used a screen share to visually walk us through various steps using this tool. We were able to share some questions with her in advance with a google form and corresponding answer sheet, so she was prepared before hand.

As a classroom teacher with a GAFE environment, we have access to the amazing Google Hangout tool to invite experts into the room too. Teachers no longer need to feel pressure to know every answer, or to feel inadequate because s/he cannot answer a student question immediately.  Everyday learning can happen in a larger, virtual community outside the four walls of our classrooms. Who can you invite to teach your class as a virtual guest speaker?
Students chat with author Kit Pearson about The Sky is Falling

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Igniting Connections 50 Years Later

I tried to light some fires today. I took a risk and used social media to contact people I don't know. Part of me felt a bit like a sales weasel, but I persevered through that uneasiness because I believe in what I did.
In 1966 my mom graduated from Imlay City High School, in Imlay City Michigan. Her class is coming back together in two weeks for their 50th reunion; those who are able to anyway.  My mom is not in that group, and I feel badly that she cannot travel to attend, when I know she would love to see her friends back in their home town again.

I decided to take a risk to create a way for grads to connect virtually. I made a Google Form, and a map, where grads could input their current location, and add email if they wished to get in contact with anyone again. Sounds great, right? Why do I still feel like I'm locked out of the school with no way in? The '66 grads are almost 70 years old, and I worried that many of them would not have a strong social media presence, so I could push this idea to them. I was surprised to find a good number of graduates on Facebook (after some careful sleuthing through reunion photo credits) so I decided to shoot them all a message explaining who I am, and would they mind sharing the form and map links to anyone else from that era, thanks very much?

I know social media isn't meant for cold solicitation; I don't appreciate when companies "follow" me with the hopes of peddling a product. However, my product is Human Connection. I believe in the positive powers of my product, and its benefit to everyone who uses it. All I want is for my mom to feel a part of her class reunion. To me, it was worth taking the risk to tap a few strangers on the shoulder to see if they'd like to play along.  I'm now trusting the Universe and my faithful PLN to help RT and spread the word for me too. I'll put the matches down for now.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What If...?

I have combined 2 responses into one thought; asking teachers to behave like learners, stepping down from their figurative platforms, would be an enormous risk for many.  The idea of not having every answer goes against the ingrained idea of teacher as fountain of wisdom. That said, I think that is self-imposed, and not the way we view our colleagues. (it only matters if we are the all-knowing)
If I were a student, it would be comforting to watch my teacher learn along with me; it might even be a great opportunity for me to teach him/her, upping my self-esteem, and letting me consolidate my own learning.

Here are more what ifs:

What if we could all practise the Law of Two Feet every day in our schools?
What if I could spend time learning from colleagues and other students at my own pace?
What if students could pick and choose simply based on inspiration and curiosity?
What would the general public think looking in from the outside?
How might that change if they could also experience this model?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Measuring up to Maker Spaces

I often have conversations with myself about balancing progress with the rest of Life.  At times I find myself feeling like I'm behind my edge-pushing colleagues when it comes to the latest, greatest ed trend, app, book, or pedagogical method; I feel like I should be pushing harder to be in the know.
One area I feel a bit removed from is the Maker Space. One definition of a maker space says:
        "Makerspaces, sometimes also referred to as hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs are creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. In libraries they often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, and more."  Ellyssa Kroski

My first thought is, 'how come I never did this?' Then I start thinking back on my own teaching experience, and remember craft tables smeared in glue and glitter and googly eyes; finding pipe cleaner snippets in the ruler bucket, or a neglected doll's shoe ditched between the bookshelves. Those items were all part of a maker-activity at some point, but it just wasn't called that.  

I'm not suggesting that the craft centre and a maker space are the same thing. Organizations like Makermedia.com assert that maker spaces encourage DIY projects using technology.  Until recent years my hands-on projects were for an art activity, or perhaps an artifact to compliment a book or science concept. Mary Beth Hertz, in this blog post points out that maker spaces are an answer to the US's mediocre performance in STEM education.  It seems schools are more frequently investing in kits, 3D printers, and other high-end tech products to help students develop creativity and problem-solving skills; yarn and Tinker Toys at the cozy craft table don't cut it any more. 

What if that's right where we are today? Are we doing a disservice to kids by offering modest tools to foster creativity? No. While we need to give ourselves props for being capable, competent educators in this moment, we want to be better than that in twenty moments from now. A next step would be to think about when and why students should be makers: Is this particular context an appropriate one to introduce techno-DIY, model building, movie creation? Why not let students build or create something as one option to express their learning? Are they fully engaged in their learning without having an extensive creativity space? 
Part of why I'm not there yet is because I haven't tried much myself.  I owe it to students to grow, improve, ask questions, try stuff, fail, and try more stuff, all in the name of being satisfied that I tried to push and own my learning. There are countless websites, blogs, books, and Twitter feeds that can all help us; we are far from alone here. Like we tell our students, set a realistic goal, and work towards that one small improvement that makes us more comfortable with maker spaces.
What are your favourite maker space resources?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Case for Collaboration

Collaboration is a big buzzword in education right now. We’re told that employers want creative team-players, who can solve problems with critical thinking. Working together often allows students a place to bounce around and grow ideas, yet I find some teachers still reluctant to take a risk and change their practice to include a collaboration project. There is pressure to hit all the curriculum expectations, to deliver quality test scores, and to regularly communicate with parents about student progress, be it in person or through written reports. To contemplate, on top of all this, a new way of teaching that involves another class, possibly another school, and technology-infused learning can seem daunting and intimidating to even the most seasoned veteran. So the question then begs: Why would anyone do this?

I have now completed two different collaboration projects involving my grade 4 class, and a grade 10 class in a neighbouring city. Both projects happened towards the end of the year, and integrated a few subject areas, as well as the “soft skills” like communication, compromise, and teamwork. The first year we had one end product- an interactive history museum, featuring structures from Ancient Times; the second one resulted in a variety of passion projects, ranging from constructing and operating a drone, to designing a music school and lessons for the less fortunate, to running a bake sale and flag football tournament to raise funds for a local sports charity. (as a team we raised $600)

All well and good, but in your educator’s mind, you are asking: how did this push students forward?  How is this an improvement on what I’m already doing?

The first Grade 10 class was at the Applied level; kids who were not ordinarily in leadership roles suddenly became mentors; grade 4 sought opinions and valued their input into the design process. The older students acted as “contributing citizens” fostering “respectful relationships”, both qualities outlined in our Board’s Improvement Plan.The learning products weren’t just another task in the vacuum of our classroom; the exhibits were for someone else. Parents, grandparents, and other school visitors came to our museum to learn from the experts. Students became more confident and creative with how they used technology tools. Students blogged about the entire process, often getting comments and feedback from their high school partners, and family members too. Growing confidence, practising metacognition, developing critical thinking; all of these elements push students forward.

I believe one of the most important features that kept students engaged, was creating something for others. Students enjoyed opportunities to help the less fortunate, or to teach other students, and in both cases helped to create the conditions for success. Kids made a difference on their own, to people in the real world. As a team, with constant communication in an environment of respect, kids felt great about what they accomplished. At that point I knew this was something bigger than just a cool, innovative project. The students grew as people. A year after the fact, my high school colleague still had students coming back to him, asking if he was going to do another project with this year’s class.

Was it difficult and at times messy? Yes. Did we know what the exact outcome was going be? No. I am not in the classroom this year, otherwise I would absolutely do this again. In my current role, I can share my experience with other education innovators, and hopefully persuade them to try a collaboration project too.

In my experience, this approach was well received by both our school administration and the parent community. If you are interested in learning more, chatting about this or ready to find a project partner, please follow the link to a form where you can leave me your contact information.

cross-posted at http://teachers.wrdsb.ca/aliringbull/blog/