Monday, July 31, 2006

Love this

Via Brian at Bump on the Blog, just couldn't resist this.

Internet Safety

I was talking to a colleague of mine who has a fifteen year old son. The son wants to participate in MSN chatrooms like all his friends do, but my colleague wants to keep him safe. He likens the son's proposed participation in MSN to letting him go to the mall unaccompanied to meet up with whoever might be there and with no focus for them being there, a recipe for trouble. I have talked with my colleague regarding internet literacy and supervision rather than outright banning of the site. Of course my colleague will work out the decision that is right for him and his family, but during the discussion he asked me if I knew of any resources. That just opened the floodgates. I looked up Wes Fryer's blog as his podcasts have mentioned teaching internet safety lately and I found this interesting video made by a student and a school principal. It is called Predator and I thought it was a great conversation starter. Wes has a wiki with a lot of resources and his links on Internet Safety. Thanks Wes, for a great collection of resources on this very topical issue.

The Power and Opportunity of Social Networking

Got up this morning and logged into my Bloglines (how I love RSS). I found two fantastic posts from Jo Kay and Vicki Davis. Jo Kay writes about her blog and what tools she has on it and why. Vicki Davis speaks about the fallout of the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) which would legislate to ban commercial social networking sites in schools in the US. What blew me away about both of these is their highlighting of the power of social networking, the response of society to this new era in communication and its implications for learning and schools. Read them.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Curriculum renewal and school improvement

There’s been a bit going on lately that’s making me reflect about my work as a teacher. It’s interesting for me to note that some of the teachers that I respect a lot are proponents of the idea that the teacher is in the classroom to teach and that the notion of facilitating learning and being “the guide on the side” is old hat for them. But I strongly believe in constructivism and connectivism (thank you, George Siemens), and I think more critically of my teaching when it is too much centred on me. I want the students to learn for their own sake and I believe that students learn well when they are able to articulate what’s important to them with their peers. The class discussion doesn’t always have to go through me. Of course, here I am rehashing an argument I had with fellow teachers yesterday when I was clearly outnumbered. These teachers couldn’t see that the students would be learning too much in a situation like Literature Circles where the students are in charge of their own discussion. I am, however, a strong believer in it. There will always be questions about the role of the teacher in the classroom and it doesn’t have to be either /or anyway. Most teachers would use more than one way of being teacher/facilitator in the classroom.

On Thursday, we had a student-free day where we were rewriting the curriculum for 2007 and incorporating, or should I say, foregrounding the concerns of VELS (Victorian Essential Learning Standards). In English we assume that teachers will consider links to other discipline areas (almost impossible not to do with Text study, when looking at backgrounds and themes of texts), interdisciplinary learning, especially the focus on thinking and reflection, ICTs and communication Design and Creativity, as well as the physical personal and social learning, all of which are in the new standards. English has always been good at that, I think. Another thing that we can keep in mind is that English teachers do have a “particular responsibility to develop literacy skills” and to “assist their students to transfer these skills across the curriculum,” as Karen Moni says in Only Connect, a very interesting new text about English Teaching, schooling and community that I have just started to read. I am not suggesting that we English teachers don’t have to participate in curriculum renewal; on the contrary it is essential that we do. But I feel that as English teachers we have a lot to offer in school wide curriculum renewal that is happening in Victoria at the moment.
On Friday I went to a workshop that was designed to help classroom teachers interpret that data from the AIM (Achievement Improvement Monitor) test, in order to make decisions on school improvement. It was led by Philip Holmes-Smith who has worked with Ken Rowe. I must admit that at first I didn’t like the AIM tests. I thought that having the students give up four hours of valuable learning time to just find out that they are average or worse below average was not beneficial. How is that helpful to the students’ self esteem? OK, it’s good for the above average students. But they, by definition, are in the minority. But after this workshop I can see that, if we examine the data carefully (recognising its limitations), we as English teachers can make decisions on how to improve the learning for our students in the classroom and look at what gaps there might be in our programs. And that has to be something positive. So on Tuesday and Wednesday our Year Sevens will be undergoing the Maths and English AIM tests, being tested on their knowledge and skills. If classroom teachers are to make use of this data, however, we must be given time to analyse and use the data (more that the introduction I had on Friday). If that doesn’t happen, the data may simply be used to critique teachers further when there is nothing we would like more than to be able to improve our teaching. Interrogating the data can also show what teachers are doing well, and that factors other that the teacher can also play a crucial role in how the students perform.

And just by the way, it's one year today since I started blogging. Happy birthday, blog.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A teaching revolution?

I love first person stories of teachers learning things and I just love this post by The Fraudulent Teacher. She doesn't write much but when she does it's always worth reading. She talks about her "revolution" in thinking about alternatives to reams of photocopied notes given to the students. It is a great read and I recommend reading the whole post. She describes her process of thinking and learning and includes this: "Young techno-savvy teachers will not see this as revolutionary. However, I know that many of my colleagues - some not so old - are shy of technology. But I’ve proved that you only have to start using technology to develop your skills and become comfortable with the equipment and experience your own teaching revolution." I happen to know that Fraudulent Teacher, like me, is one of those teachers who trained a long time ago so if we can do it there's hope yet.

New student blogs

Just wanted to let you know of some new student blogs: part of a combined year nine and ten class who are doing the Recreating the Writer unit in 2006. Not all of them have started writing yet, but a few have and some of you fabulous bloggers might like to comment on some of them.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A "My Space" for teachers?

I just feel I have to write again about a burgeoning community over at Educationbridges: Teachers collaborating with teachers. I joined the community a week or so ago and I have watched it grow and transmute over the days. It’s a bit like watching a fast forward video of a flower coming into bloom. I have heard it referred to as “MySpace” for teachers and the key to it is the connections that are created through tagging. You tag your interests in your profile, you tag your blog posts and you can immediately see who else has similar interests and passions. Communities and groups form naturally through the common interests. People ask questions and have them answered, the conversations well up, spill over and die down. I have been a fan of for ages because of the networking and sharing that goes on, but this just takes it about a hundred steps forward. This is my page on the Educationbridges elgg

But what is elgg? I hear you ask. Dave Tosh has this to say: “Elgg is a web-based learning system that allows users to create their own "personal learning landscapes". These are places where users can store their personal reflections, development and resource base; they also become online identities which are used to share ideas with other users and instructors, sparking debate and creating online communities of learning.”

Along with this learning about elgg and collaboration I recently listened to an interview with Nancy White, an online community development consultant who has interesting points to make about identity, learning and communities of practice looking at issues of power, and the needs of bloggers. The technology can show up, as Nancy says, “the network effect of blogging” to help build these communities. I do think this an essential part of being a blogger, checking out my referrer stats. Nancy talks about “identity online” and how “the expression of identity is a path to learning,” referring to Etienne Wenger. This is a thought I would like to consider some more. In fact I’ve had to listen to the whole podcast a few times as it was so interesting and gave me so much to think about. She speaks of a collaborative community being thought of as an “an extension of my brain”, something I have felt as well. In the interview Nancy refers to a book about online communities of practice, The Virtual Community by Howard Rheingold, which is available here. I think this is something I’ll have to read as well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Digital chalkie podcast

Last night I listened to a recent podcast that was recorded a week or so ago by Brad Hicks, Kelly Anderson and Paul Reid, some of whom are recent graduates of the webcast academy. It was great to hear Aussie voices speaking about classroom blogging and other “web 2.0” things. They had a visit from Doug Symington as well. They plan to do these webcasts regularly. Listening to the podcast I was inspired and learnt new things for the newest set of classroom bloggers (another group doing the unit Recreating the Writer) who will be starting in the next few weeks. Brad and Paul have set up Digital Chalkie to “provide a hub for Australian educators using ICT to engage and facilitate the best educational outcomes for their students.” Kelly is a great example of someone using blogging and podcasting in the secondary English classroom. While I was poking around Digital Chalkie I found Terri Van Zetten’s wiki which is a lesson plan for setting up blogs with primary school kids. I found it very helpful.

The more I learn about engaging with educational technology the more I think it is necessary for more teachers for to try these things out with their students. On the Edblogger News site I found an article that seems to exemplifies what the future might be. It makes us wonder, as Paul Allison says, "How do we prepare teenagers for the world that is described here, the Internet as a social tool? Do we have any responsibility or do we leave this up to young people to figure out?"

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Something new

I have decided to work part time next year after working full time for over a decade. And everybody knows working full time is really more than full time. I'm hoping to finsh writing my thesis in 2007 and so I will welcome the extra thinkling, reading and writing time. I love my time in the classroom a lot, but I have realised my limitations during this year when I have been trying to do too much. We will only have one child at school (after a time having five children being educated) so if I can't afford to go part time now I never will. And it's in a good cause too. Imagine how much extra time I'll be able to give to blogging! And even though it's hard, I'm still enjoying second semester.
On another topic,
Arvind and Alex have set up a learning community coming out of the Worldbridges community using Elgg called
Educationbriges Teachers collaborating with Teachers which looks like it's got potential. There are a lot of communities springing up now in the edublogosphere which goes to show how social we all are, I think.
And finally I really loved
this interview with Etienne Wenger on Communities of Practice which I found over at Headspace. I can't get over how much there is to learn.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Creative Commons and teachers' work

Nancy McKeand, whose blog I regularly read, alerted me to the way that we could stand up for the sharing of thoughts and ideas that make the edublogosphere share a rich and interesting place. She has put a Creative Commons license on her blog
"(n)ot because I am worried about anyone stealing anything they find here but rather because I want to make a statement. I believe in Creative Commons licensing. I believe in sharing our thoughts and ideas and our words. As far as I am concerned, this license doesn't change anything here on the blog. But I want to make it official."
I, too, want to make stand and so I have added the licence on the sidebar. Exploring the creative commons site which I have been peripherally aware of was very enlightening. The push behind Nancy's post was something that has caused a bit of concern on the Oz-teachers mailing list: the idea that teachers should sell their lesson plans to each other rather than sharing them freely. It is clear that awareness about Creative Commons and copyright is a vital issue.
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Monday, July 03, 2006

Winter school

Some time ago I wrote a post called "How do you know your students are learning?" and now I think I know the answer (grin). Over the last week I was attending the Monash Winter School to (while colleagues in the northern hemisphere are at their summer schools) to try to come to grips with writing my thesis. One of the presentations was by Amanda Berry who has just finished her award winning Ph D thesis, researching her practice as a teacher educator. Afterwards I spoke to her (to get some tips, you understand) and she recommended an author I had not come across: Stephen Brookfield. His book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, is very readable and informative. What Brookfield describes is a method he uses to find out from his students (admittedly adults, while mine are adolescents) how they are experiencing their learning and your teaching. It does sound interesting. He does this questionnaire with classes once a week with five questions asking them about specific incidents that were engaging or distancing, affriming and helpful or puzzling or confusing and what was most surprising. The comments are anonymous and students have a carbon copy of their responses. They can keep them and have a record of their respponses on an ongoing basis. I must admit there is a lot in this book that gives food for thought.
One comment on the presentations in general at the Winter School: why does everybody have to have a standard Powerpoint presentation? Most of them did not enhance the presentations, and it almost seemed as if they were compulsory. Let's have truly engaing presentations or just not use them!
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Some significant blog posts

Via Tim Frederick's blog: Teaching Question and Answer: a place for teachers to go and ask questions as well as answer other people's questions. I had a look and there is a thoughtful question about how to be helpful and supportive of a student teacher just waiting to be answered. He also has a site Teaching Bookshelf where teachers can share books that are important to them. It is starting to develop a bit of a network and I can really see the possibilities here.

And while I'm featuring great blog posts - I loved this one from a student in Snow Lake, Canada "What I learned from blogging". One of the things s/he learned was "that when you have a blog you can write as many posts as possible". Right on! Also noted was the importance of networking. I guess they have a fine teacher.

Both the blog posts are highlighting what I have found so important in theis edublogosphere the social aspects, the networking, the community, the learning. I have just started back at school for semster two today (with 2 days of professional learning) and I'm looking forward to continuing to develop the links in cyberspace as well as face to face.