Moshi Monsters

The PR blurb says : Moshi Monsters is a virtual world for children that allows users to adopt and care for their own pet monsters. Users create a home for their pet monster in Monstro City, play games and make friends, and show off their monster. It is not ‘new’ as such – but new to me. It was nominated for a Childrens BAFTA Award in December 2008.

picture-21The blogger says: Moshi Monsters is slick and well able to align it’s product offering with big brands to fish in the same markets – such as a current tie in competition with the up coming Ben 10 movie. It also got a whopping US$10million as a start up. It’s a 2D flash based site, in which children solve puzzles, earn points, and do the usual social stuff. However, one of the sticky points – a little neo-pets like – is that the monster has a quite clever behavior engine. You have to try and keep it happy. It has in effect an emotional literacy – how to keep your avatar pet alive. Being social is one way – the site allows messages and connections between other Moshi owners.

There are obvious, earlier comparisons to draw here with ‘pet based’ interaction online – but the site also has a ‘blog’, which contains a lot of information – including discussions about what users have created – and some very subtle marketing and cross promotional activity.

A quick trial with the house hold ‘test monkeys’ – and it was a cinch to figure out, but to get the most out of it, they need cognitive skills of online communication as well as problem solving, so not for pre-schoolers or early learners. I’d say 9-11 year olds might stick with it for a while.

There are lots of puzzle sites around, and indeed puzzle based MUVEs, what I found interesting here was the degree of social media integration done over and above the ‘game’ itself. Blogs, buddy lists, message boards … and avatar management – what looks like a simple site – is actually demanding a high level of literacy. Mindcandy – the creators – seem very aware of parent communication and site monitoring, but I didn’t see active evidence of that in the way that ReadingEggs sends a report of your child’s activity.

But it’s been this weeks ‘hit’ internet ‘time’ toy, though I am not at all sure that it has any ‘educational’ value in it’s games – that you can’t get with less of an overhead elsewhere with Dora or Disney, but makes big leaps into social media territory – which is what I found more interesting.

I do wish these things could be more adaptable. Right now they are almost as frustrating as Computer Aided Instruction software in the 1990s. Sure they look nice, do neat stuff  – but they don’t allow ‘learning’ to be at the centre. Collecting “Rox” in return for puzzles is mearly a means to an end. There is no real ability to put the character into a learning framework, no opportunity to ‘create’ or ‘story tell’, so once again, I think we are heading down the wrong path. This might lead to kids ‘social networking’ but really – what is the point – the age of their development does not require them too, or equip them to. Virtualising it and adding moral pressure didn’t thrill me, or make me want to take kids to it in an educational setting.

I can see merit in MeetSee in school and home – and there are others such as MetaPlace that offer more learning centred opportunities. Games have their place, especially with boys education – maths and science – such as Runescape, but then there are things such as Moshi Monsters. It is much harder to ‘extract’ how you’d add these to a class, so this means they are left to be used at home. It is important that teachers at least ‘know’ what is happening in this growing realm – as the skills being developed are significant – and so is the collaborative, social nature used to aquire them. Moshi Monsters would make an interesting study in comparison to other more adaptive offerings.

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Touch Typing or Curriculum Renewal?

194040205_091d47ff6420 years ago, schools understood that typing was an important. I even did typing class while studying a graphic degree, well before the advent of desktop publishing. 15 years ago, schools understood that typing with a computer and navigating graphical interfaces was important. We taught typing, it was on the time-table and used special applications to do it.

10 years ago schools thought that information super highway was important. We entered the age of ‘information technology’ and encouraged students to ‘look up’ and ‘find’. We learned to type, to use a computer and to search the internet because someone thought it was important.

But now we know it’s important to think about technology in terms of media literacy, where friend driven and interest driven learning blends with formal learning. We know connectivism is influencing how and where learning happens; we know social media has transformed communication and collaboration. We are rethinking the very nature of information itself.

While schools often take the long break to renovate or rejuvenate the physical infrastructures, doing the similar in the pedagogical domain is almost none existent and the year begins much as it left off.

I propose these schools re-introduce ‘touch typing’. That is a better use of time and resources than using Web2.0 poorly or fumbling with learning-theory-rhetoric in staff meetings or in front of parents. At least then, kids can go home and use their own social networks with at least one relevant skill from the ICT classroom. I am not sure why learning to type was removed from so many classrooms – perhaps its something to do with ‘digital natives’. Students starting school for the first time will have signifiantly different experience of technology that those starting high school this year experienced in their pre-school years. Pre-schoolers develop sufficient skills to operate a keyboard, mouse and navigate iconography using a range of technologies. Early readers and writers have been using a wealth of online activities before entering K12.

What are they going to learn about in the next 12 years beyond basic office automation and search/copy/paste?

To my mind if curriculum leaders need to be articulating a clear vision of what media literacy is; putting professional development in place to allow staff to learn it; putting school programs in place to teach it; – just as they did with touch typing all those years ago.

Sea Change – People Change.

267762663_1b6b6c9716More on the negotiated curriculum. My wife has been appointed to new school this week on the Central Coast, about 70kms north of Sydney, so this holiday we have to find a new house and move in about 5 weeks. Its an opportunity to get Miss 5 to start school with her and also to move Mr 7 to the same school. Aside from the hours and hours of running around to pick up and drop off kids that will come to an end – the principal of the school was really open to the idea of negotiating Mr 5s curriculum and finding ways of developing that with us, him and the teacher. To her, supporting the idea that the ‘extra’ time that he gets is used to do someting authentic within the context of what is happening in the classroom – seemed obvious. Previously it was seen as totally disruptive to the ‘teaching of the class’.

What a difference one person could make. I say could, as it may not play out the way we hope, but at least the door is open. Once again it is really clear that improvement opportunities in education of children simply come from open minded people. There really is no benefit in ‘yeah butting’ ideas, simply because they are different.

In the case of children with special needs, 21st Centruy skills – collaboration, communication and construction of knowledge towards goal-orientated learning to me are far more important than ‘rote’ learning. The are not, as I heard this week from someone, ‘motherly’ statements – but imperatives. Personally I think they are more important than remembering discipline information, and in Mr 7s case unless he aquires them at the same time as ‘content’ – then quite simply he tunes right out.

Mr 3 we noticed this week asks us ‘teach me to …’ when he wants to do something. As a fiesty 3 year old it’s already clear that he is an active learner and wants to be hands on, trying and collaborating. He doesn’t accept (beacuse he’s 3) that he can’t do something unless he tries, and has learned to working with his siblings yeilds benefits – but is not about to accept their version of what he can or cannot do. This of course leads to frustration – especially when dealing with Mr 7 who generally makes instant judgements and is not a trial and error kid. Give Mr 7 Lego and ask him to contruct something. Not in the least interested as he visualises only the ‘end’ product. The fastest way to that is to get an adult to do it.

So in one household there is massive differences in learning, communication, language and collaboration skills. Miss 5 loves to visualise her ideas, Mr 3 likes to ‘build’ things (he wants a bridge for Christmas) and Mr 7 loves technology to contruct – but not kinesthetic construction. There are ‘core’ skills kids need to know – but there is no one ‘rote’ way to learn them. More importantly, having a teacher or school who actually listens to the parents and allows the children to expore authentic learning preferences will, in my view, be a better school.

It’s not the amount of IWBs, the size of the pool, the 1:1 laptops or the prestige name that matters – but the teacher. Mr 7 has survived this year because of the support of 2 people at St.Clair OOSH, before and after school care – who have gone to tremendous efforts to understand him, engage him and support his interests. This is why I think that as ‘people networks’ grow – my kids stand a better chance of at least spending some time in the future with people who have the capacity to interact with them in ways that work (for them).

David Warlick posted about his answers to the ‘yeah buts’ this week and Kevin Jarrett posted about the power of networks. Both of these things give me a lot of hope that teachers begin to wake up to the idea that ‘rote’ learning, based on authoratarian power – is not going to work into the next decade, as effectively as learning how to engage todays kids in todays cultural and social contexts.

Where does it start – with open minded teachers – not ‘tech savvy’ ones. Technology helps grease the wheels -but is neither a cure for engagement – or a disruption to learning methods – and striving to talk about ‘learning’ without using any reference to technology I think brings much greater clarity to the discussions about what 21st Century Learning is. Open minded, authentic, individual and student centered – based on inquiry, but underpinned by ‘core’ explicit learning activities. Not all ‘computer’ based and not one ‘style’ or another – blended learning – because we live blended lives.

I re-read my first post today – and pleased to think that I started with one idea – and that was to try new things. Almost 2 years later, I think I am still doing that, except now I have a much better understanding of how to achieve it and now working with some great people that help me.  The point is, that I decided one day, that change had to start with me, not the system.

Thursday’s child is full of woe

Sitting above children are numerous infrastructures designed to orgnise teaching and learning, from government policy, syllabus, school governance down to scope and sequences. All of this is linear documentation designed to provide the best learning for children. A parents, we experienced that and now place out children into that structure. We don’t have a choice. We are further limited by geography, culture, faith and financial capacity to select which school our children can attend.

So this might sound self-serving, guess what I don’t care. I am a parent and I want my kids to enjoy relevant schooling.

We are assuming that we provide a macro experience via scope and sequence – and that the teacher will be able to differentiate the emotional, intellectual or intrinsic learning preference of our children. I am reminded of the childrens nursery rhyme and wonder if Wednesday’s child has far to go or if Thursdays’ child is full of woe. The rhyme perhaps indicates we have always known that everyone is an individual. At some point we decided that trying to average out what we mean by a ‘student’ at any stage of development is somehow better. Maybe now we finally have an opportunity to rethink it.

Can technology enhance learning by including parents and students to add input to it? Perhaps ePortfolios are a way of doing this. But to be effective they need to be individualized. I know that is what teacher are charged to do, but seriously, it does not always happen that way. If Thursdays child is indeed full of woe, perhaps that is because the daily content dump and ‘programmed’ learning schedule doesn’t allow them to explore things they are passionate about. The way we organize schools does not promote sufficient time to explore things children find ‘more’ interesting.

It is now possible to model better individualized learning. We can use technology to mediate between the child’s interests and the syllabus requirements. Teachers spend an enormous amount of time ‘preparing’ for ‘scope and sequence’ delivery – and maybe by rethinking this, we can generate the time that children and teachers need to work together more closely.

Is the ePortfolio a record of ‘what I can do’, or ‘how I leaned to do’? Why for example, why can’t a parent or student have input into that ‘scope and sequence’. We have the technology to do this. We are saying that ‘learning is a conversation’, but still very selective about whom participates and on what terms that takes place. I am not suggesting that all of the student, parent or teacher ideas will be used – but surely the overall learning would be enhanced. If not for all kids, but for some kids, especially those with ‘differentiated needs’.

Do we simply ‘give’ the responsibility of learning (and learning in the 21C to teachers), or can we act ourselves as an intervention. I wonder what the reaction of my son’s next teacher will be when I ask why we can’t do this?  Is there a policy that says what happens to my children between 9am and 3pm, for 42 weeks a year is exclusively only open to the schools determination. Why do we get a ‘term’ report of only a few lines? As we know, we are A-E reporting and the ‘comments’ are so PC and vanilla, that they are almost meaningless.

How much better for me as a parent, with a kid that has alternate-views of life that he can’t control, if I assist in the mediation process. Is it a legal, technical or social barrier – perhaps a combination. But to explore it, all parties need to agree to participate.

Thanks to everyone whos offered myself and Mr7 support this week. He’s doing better, but not at all confident about actually going to school right now. I am sure I am not the only parent in this position, nor am I the only one looking to improve the situation.

The rise of the meta-teacher

1410539606_86f47b8e13Has 2008 been a significant juncture in education?. K12 Online was a huge hit, Connectivism ran online and numerous ‘fringe’ edu-events went mainstream. Of course the Australian government has decided it would like to filter the entire internet for us and drop low end laptops in schools.

We wonder why reforming ICT in school is hard … look at the vast differences in what is happening.

Regardless of 2008, it seems obvious that in the last decade – the power of the internet to connect us to things we want to know, buy or with people we want to know or could never meet has changed great parts of our society – of which students and teachers belong. You only have to compare the Australian Bureau of Statitics ‘Internet’ data from 1998 to 2008 to see how powerful the internet has become in our lives. We are not the same as we were.

It is not a ‘digital revolution’ any more than it was an ‘information superhighway’ a decade ago.

I see the rise of the ‘meta-teacher’. A teacher who understands that as information spews out of our desktops, laptops and phones – it sticks to the internet and potentially has to be navigated. These teachers are different. They have skills and understanding that makes them critical in the classroom, and the global ‘edu’ community. They lead, mediate, inspire and collaborate. More importantly they understand how to read, use, integrate, technology, and ‘meta-language’. They understand how ‘things’ get connected to other things. They are aware that ‘tagging’ is significant.

The teacher who thinks that a website address and Google are enough to navigate media and networks of information is gradually becoming media-illiterate – and passing that on to their students.  The ‘universal resource locator stopped working correctly as soon as we stopped hand-writing html and turned on our data-base driven interwebs. The internet is not a level playing field when it comes to content, nor does Google know which is the most relevant site for you. It has a good guess, but without critical literacy skills – how can you tell?

Meta data and meta language are how we tie information, people, ideas, resources and communities together – not links or search engines.

These teachers are power-influences . They can integrate web technology into the curriculum,  interpret, aggregate and organize information to help other’s do it too. Meta-teachers are seen as a ‘problem’ to the incumbents, and despite the enormous goodwill and passion they have – struggle to engage the laggards (who are too busy). When will parents start saying ‘enough’. Is it possible that we could blend face to face with online and rethink schools?

Right now schools are trying to stick a digital clock on a poodle.

Will Richardson recently talked about the school of the future and the discussion that followed was very thought provoking. Will increasing numbers of meta-teachers allow the school of the future – the ‘meta-schools’. Is that how we’ll reform pedagogy and curriculum. How much with Open Education influence this?

Will they appear in the same way ‘charter schools’ appeared. It’s not so crazy and idea as sooner or later someone with money will pay for it – and there will be both parents and teachers who want it. Perhaps the role of meta-teachers is not to  ‘change’ their schools. Maybe they represent an opportunity to create ‘better’ schools – or at least offer an alternative to what we have. It really would be nice to have the choice.

PSPs in the Classroom

Playstations are cool. They do play great games, the video is excellent, the audio is supurb. They do have stupid sized discs and weird memory sticks, but that’s life with Sony.

But at AU$260, they do have a better quality and sized screen than the DS when it comes to surfing the internet and no additional software cartridge (not that I’ve actually seen a DS in real life, just photos on the internet).

They seem to be reliable from what the students tell me and a good $200 less than an iTouch (which can’t play Need for Speed Carbon).

As kids can txt at the speed of light (which is odd, as it seems to thake them 50 minutes to hand write 3 sentences?) it seems then the interface does not pose a significant time challenge when surfing the internet… not that they are writing to much,  just low end Google and Wiki reading.

So today, we hooked a couple of the kids PSPs up to the captive portal. We previouly could not do this to the CEO wireless, which is LEAP based. Sony doesn’t leap – why would it, it’s a Sony!

on a side note : OSX Leopard also dies on the CEO LEAP wireless network …. mmmm

So there are reasons for and against the Sony in the Classroom.

I’m advocating the use of portable devices.

Immediate negatives : There are issues over classroom equity; placing the student at risk with a valuable device in their pocket; the distraction in the classroom on initial use.

Immediate positives: The PSP is light, fits into a back pack; It is fairly robust; It has an intuitive interface that 90% of the kids with afluenssa understand; The sound is great, the video is great and the screen is big enough to allow classroom fact finding or browsing.

They are also fairly low cost in comparison with even a low end PC or Apple Device. The one thing that is it’s down fall – Its a Sony Playstation, so teachers may well approach it with some prejudice, and some students may take a more libertarian view of its use.

But consider a geography class. They can read about the land formation in a text book, but it is just a still photo in a book. With a PSP they can discover so much more.

I read my 4 year old daughter bedtime stories … one such favourite is “Ellies Growl”. One night she told me she had no idea what noise a zebra makes or a whale. Never slow to give kids li-ion powered devices, we looked them up on the internet as we read through the list of animals. Even at 4, I could see that the text and illustrations lacked depth – she is used to a wider media experience.

I think that the PSP et al, offer a half-way house in delivering technology into the classroom. It’s not a book and not a full blown computer … but it is portable, offers the ability to show small groups a video or listen to sounds, plays etc., – they have a massive opportunity in primary schools – simple buttons that 99% of the kids understand, and in secondary school will allow students to use them to take work home, look up the internet and more,

And at $260 not bad value … if only Sony add a keyboard, but then lately they seem more interested in cutting down the specs of the Playstation, not adding to it.

 

Classroom 2.0 @ PMHS for 2008

I’ve decided in 2008 to focus my ‘blog’ by reporting on how our school is re-thinking digital classrooms. This has begun with the first installation, which is designed to provide teachers and students with not just quick hardware, but puts the emphasis on student centered learning, using Web2.0.

We talk about Classroom 2.0, but I hope that the journey in 2008 will show how I am facilitating teaching and learning by facilitating and encouraging Web2.0 tools are the classroom standard.

Background

Some 165 Year 9 students are about to start Project Based Learning. Information Software Technology is now a compulsory subject choice. Subjects are twinned and taught at the same time. For example IST and RE. Two facilitators (teachers) and 50 students per room. PBL is based on social contructivism. We are adopting the structures of Napa’s New Technology High School – which is a showcase for Bill Gate’s theories about 21st Century Learning. There is so much written about PBL, that I make no attempt to judge it. My role is to facilitate it.

Essentially students are given a ‘driving question’ and work for 5 weeks in teams to give a ‘presentation’. They are marked on content, skill, communication, work efforts etc., so there is an ongoing need for each student to productive.

PMHS is unique in adopting and extending this in Australia.

Current use of digital classrooms

I have several PC labs with some 400 or so PCs in a school population of just under 1000. So generally speaking, students have excellent access to the internet and PC/Macs. I also connect student laptops to the WiFi network (if they have them).

I looked at the assessment tasks given in year 7 & 8 closely in designing the Class 2.0 network. Like most schools we offer XP and Office as the primary production tools. It is no suprise then, that the majority of tasks require students to produce work using these tools – Powerpoints, Leaflets, Brochures and Word Docs. We have specialist software applications – but the over arching use of our labs is to work in MS Office.

Students hit Wikipedia and Google, chop and paste, throw in a few images and Bobs your uncle. I know this for a fact, as I spend a lot of time watching their use of the technology.

In year 7/8 students have about 1 in 5 lessons in a PC lab. In addition to this Design and Technology, Music and Creative Arts have their own labs, as do Science – so students I would say spend about a third of their time using computers.

Classroom 2.0

Following my Learnscope work this year, I have been working with my classes to use Web2.0 tools to demonstrate learning and facilitate it. (Check the link My Web2.0 World) – that has a link to my resources and my students’ blogs/shares.

The new rooms take into account the limitations offered in the existing classrooms on teaching and learning. I am attempting to encourage students and staff NOT to default to activities that revolve around MS Office. The challenge was to deliver a network and environment that: Supports the PBL model; assumes users are ‘digital natives’; requires low – proxy policy; encourages student/staff social networking and publishing; and gives high speed access to Web2.0 solutions.

I am not anti MS Office. I am anti-status quo. Given that this is a huge shift for our school from teacher centric to student centric, I am concious that staff are by and large Teacher 1.0, and the safe, comfortable option is to stick with what you know. MS Office type activities.

We are using Moodle as our courseware. However, I want the students to learn to find, evaluate, select and use a range of solutions to solve the project problems. Of course Wikis, Blogs are on the agenda … but I want to encourage students and staff to try a range of them or indeed challenge the use of them for their solution.

My concern is that we default to our old ways. So at launch, there is no MS Office in the new labs. The browser is loaded with a range of Web2.0 tools … Zoho for example does the same thing, Google Docs does the same thing. By encouraging the use of these … and limiting the temptation to ‘default’ … I hope that part of the IST learning outcomes ‘select appropriate software’ will mean much more. It will encourage exploration, professional developement and creative thinking.

Use Management

The new labs are running Mircrosoft Server 2003, and not Novell. Auditing and getting meaningful data from Novell is impossible in our environment. Students simply hit ‘workstation only’ and do what they like. I have no idea who they are, so lost the proxy-war early on in 2007. In PBL the solution is to put students into groups, based on their use of the technology. If students want to cruise YouTube to pass their time, then they will find they do it at dial-up speed. Students who want to create VoiceThreads will have access to WiFi laptops and given bandwidth priority.

This I hope will encourage students to do the right thing – as we are preparing them for life – I still believe the internet is good for 2 things – save time or waste time – so I am encouraging positive behaviour through bandwidth and access to hardware and technology. I have found that attempting to do this using a proxy ban list is not effective. Since dropping the proxy to all but obviously in-appropriate content – but allowing YouTube and Social Networking – has seen far less ‘behaviour’ management needed. Initially, kids went nuts, but it settles down … trust me.

The best firewall a school has is organic … its called a teacher. If teachers are delivering interesting activities and pro-active (movement and position) in the room – then it delivers a much better result for all.

Brave new network

So my new network is geared to Web2.0. It will challenge staff and students. I am expecting ‘pitch forks and burning lanterns’ from the staff – taking away Word is just stupid! – and some confusion from students who have been conditioned to MS Office – select template, search Google, paste. Paul Curtis (Napa) said “ask them questions they can’t Google”, in relation to PBL methods. I have taken this out of context and have delivered a solution that allows students to explore and use the tools that they choose as part of their lives outside school – in school.

Use the Force Luke … time for us to let go and believe in students abilities

I’ve seen how students evolve in my own classes this year, and after a year … they no longer expect or default to MS Office. They do use it when they need to, for example write a script. But they then select other tools to deliver their ‘product’. And that to me is the key … to encourage them to select tools to support creativity, and so let them learn in way that they like to learn. Be that Second Life, Wikis, Blogs, Google Docs, Flakes, Slideshare, VoiceThread etc.,

I believe then, that this is the first High School Network that is designed as Web2.0 as it’s default operation. What I am going to blog about in 2008 is how I’ve built it, the technology, processes and mechanisms used and most of all the experience of the staff and students in working in a High School Classroom 2.0 environment.

The second theme I will blog about is integrating Skoolaborate (Second Life) into VET and IST, from a very hands on perspective … so others might use the same resources and ideas.

Let me know what you think!