Why get connected?

I was thinking after to talking to my 7 year old about Maths today.

He doesn’t seem to be ‘into’ his teacher – which is a bit of an issue when you are an Aspi kid.

He’s into Maths which I find more strange than being as Aspi-kid, but them who am I to talk.

Anyway, it stuck me that as he gets further into Maths, then I’ll be even less help than I am now. He then said, isn’t your friend in Montana a Maths teacher? He can show me?. He’s right I thought! As he gets older – then I really want him to connect with people who can help him learn. What do I care if they are not in his school.

Maybe being in this timezone will work to his advantage.

He’s already figured out Skype, so this really wouldn’t be that hard – as he really likes technology (well blowing stuff up on a computer) – which is far less confrunting to him than his teacher (who yells – not at him, just yells) or at thats at least what he thinks, which is all that matters.

How much will this grow in the future I thought. When he’s trying to figure out some English thing, he can ask Konrad.  He can get Will Richardson to Skype in on his 21G iPhone (not Telstra) and set the teacher straight after failing a test he just Googled instead of remembered.

It’s not exactly home school,  but connectavist-school.

Then I start to think that this is a very real thing in the future. Kids can be connected to teachers after school – maybe not their teachers in their timezone – but teachers never the less. If I teach him about wierdos and nutters online, then he’s going to soon hook into other networks … then my brain melted.

Wow, amazing how much your kids teach you about the future.

Go on an ICT Diet – you need it fatboy

If you are a teacher, or know a teacher that uses and ICT classroom, this ones for you.

What are you feeding your kids? – How do you know that what you are feeding them is good for them? Is your classroom really that healthy?

Diet, according to the mass media, is vital to our health and well being. We also hear how playing video games is bad for teenagers – they should be out playing ball. But is it all bad? Here is a great post in Teen Health to read later.

Going past the ‘home’ use of technology, I’d like to propose the idea of a ‘healthy ICT environment’ for learning in school. I propose that many teachers need to go on an ICT Diet, and loose some pounds and bad consumption habits.

Googling is not healthy. Nor is skulling Wikipedia. Both activities do not promote healthy consumption of information, and the student brain rarely turns it into knowledge.

Fact based information is everywhere. Asking questions that can be easily Googled is hardly going to break students into a sweat. And as all the fitness gurus tell us – no pain no gain. ICT in classrooms is not to be used as the Ab King Pro (click it’s funny).

Using a computer is not short cut to learning and water, I mean information retention (ah the fitness puns come thick and fast). I think that many ICT lessons are fundamentally unhealthy.

Here are few things that I think are serious problems in high school ICT lessons.  Sharing a computer with someone else is NOT collaborative learning. Asking kids to look up answers to things you wrote on the board in NOT enquiry learning. Showing kids a powerpoint you made last year for the same class is NOT a teacher exposition. Writing answers on a worksheet after they look them up on Wikipedia is NOT multimedia – nor is adding sound effects to power point.

ICT Workouts for healthy classrooms

Firstly, I don’t like the digital native idea – Don’t assume that someone in primary (elementary) taught kids how to touch type, no kid was born to text – they learned it.

Being a competent typist is much more important to 7th graders than being a ‘blogger’. It might look good to administrators and parent – ‘hey, look how 21C my abs are’ – but if you only have limited hours in the ICT gym – teach them to type please.

Make sure that they have key mastery skills, take on board differentiated learning needs. Assume nothing. Make sure you have a list of things you want to ‘check’ for before launching into your newest Web2.0 love. They have to type, they have to read, they have to know where to look for information, they have to JUSTIFY it. If you are finding that kids are heading to the cookie jar (Control Copy/Paste) then make sure how screw that lid down tight. (Ask questions they can’t Google).

Paper is still an Olympic champion – think of ways in which you can use paper in formative assessment. Give kids paper that they can use to construct meaning. Don’t give them things to fill it – eating between meals will spoil your ICT appetite. Come up with formative scaffolds that help them work online. Don’t assume because they eat at Bebo, that they know what to bring to class. They don’t know, and mum doesn’t know what to pack for a healthy ICT lunch either. Design paper things that help them learn WITH technology.

Use the ICT gym equipment safely. Put the kids on the IWB, not your powerpoint. Use tools like Mindomo as a vitamin IWB enhancer. Get them to work collaboratively to solve a problem, not to colour in or click things. Its a big visual space so let them run around a bit.  The internet is VERY BIG, take them on a virtual field trip. Find ways to put them in front of the board, not you – you’re the coach, you don’t need to run around all the time. But you do need to keep them motivated.

Leave bad habits at home. Don’t bring your MS Office bias into class. Honestly – how teachers ever do a mail merge or set up a macro – or need to teach kids to – EXPLICITLY? Most people use like 10% of Word’s ability. Instead, go have a look at GoogleDocs, Buzzwords or Zoho. Think about how you can get kids to work collaboratively with you and others – using the same core functions that Word has been drip feeding you for a decade or more. Don’t learn more Word Tools, learn more collaborative writing tools. Maybe there’s a project idea in which they’d need to learn to mail merge – give it context and purpose.

Get in a coach or pro mentor. No one ever said that getting healthy would be easy. Connecting to people who can help you – is called a Personal Learning Network. You can get all kinds of great advice and also give advice. You+Network=Winning Team. You+Bad ICT Diet=Unhealthy Learners.

I think that if we took the average ICT lesson to Dr Learning, we’d find that it is unhealthy for the students. Chris Lehmann talked last week about technology being like Oxygen for students.

I think oxygen is not the only thing we need to live, diet and (brain) exercise will create collaborative, creative and engaged learners – who will suck down plenty of O2 in ICT classrooms.

Beyond Content

This is a Voice Thread that I’d like to share as an example of effective collaboration – and authentic learning in a year 10 Commerce project called ‘Not Good Enough‘.

The project was designed from an information architetecture perspective to achieve some outcomes that are over and above those dictated by the syllabus requirements. There was a lot of consultation and planning for this with the teachers. It required preparation of the ‘entry document’ and some initial professional development to explain the strategic goals embeded in the project to promote the following.

  1. To provide an online discourse community to assist individual learners in a collaborative task
  2. To promote reflective writing as a literacy requirement
  3. To ‘google proof’ the collection of information – turning ‘seek’ activities into higher order – justified knowledge in a given context
  4. To include 3 elements of digital story telling – Diigo, Creative Commons Licensed images (Flickr) and Voice Thread
  5. To expose students to ‘audience’ – and in that regard – the appropriate use of sourced information and images
  6. To ensure that all members of a ‘group’ play an equitable role in the over all task
  7. To generate peer discussion and teacher to student discussion
  8. To evaluate student ability to use online collaborative tools in a non-ICT based setting

This to me is a critical factor in using online activities. Just ‘going online’ with Ning or anything else has to have a deeper teaching and learning agenda – and one which can be evaluated within known terms of reference. That is the only way that we can show others of the classroom benefits to reforming curriculum, pedagogy and daily classroom practices. This is what school principals need to know how to put into practice if they want to take 21st century learning beyond a few isolated classrooms being run by passionate teachers (who are usually advocated and early adopters). ISTE recently suggested that this is less than 5% of teachers.

Modelling Reform

So this was an interesting ‘test’ of the professional development model that I’ve been working on with a number of teachers. My aim is to install a workable framework in several classrooms, in which the use of a discourse community (web2.0) tool is used with three digitial story telling tools. The rubrics for the management and formative assessment is central to the overall development of this model in collaborative (not just Project Based Learning). The teachers are not ‘technophiles’ and the majority of students in this cohort are not studing any form of ICT. Its much easier to do this stuff in classrooms where ICT use is a ‘norm’ but in this cohort, they are based in traditional, low-tech, envrionments.

What is interesting, and happening in all the projects that I’ve been able to model with teachers – is that one of the first topics of student lead discussion – is the nature of the project itself.

Students on learning

Students talk in their evaluations of the project using interesting language. In the one above, he talks about being ‘committed towards learning again’, as if he’s become disconnected. He then talks about ‘research’ being boring – I think he is talking about ‘seek and find’ activities – teacher writes up a question, the student Googles it. That is something I’ve been having numerous conversations with students about recently. “What ICT use looks like in the ‘general classroom'”.

I liked the phrase ‘I find it interesting that even teachers are … and giving advice’ – as if this is something that doesn’t happen in their learning normally.

It gives me a lot to think about, as they are talking more about the nature of learning, normal activities and engagement – than they are about the mechanical requirements of the assessment task.

I’ve been keeping a list of final works, so that I’m sharing an wide range of works and not showcasing.

Beyond Content

This example illustrates how creativity and mutli-literacies can be demonstrated by the student. These are ideas come through collaboration, negotiation and leadership . These are skills that are well outside the summative assessment requirements in the original brief. The students have maximised the use of Voice Thread’s collaborative nature. Multiple accounts to create multiple info-bites. This student took on the role of project co-ordinator and used the reflective writing process to give clear indications of his, and his groups progress. These can be referenced by time and date to his collaborators work. In their work, I see this students influences as a writer.

Judy O’Connell has talked to me about the importance of information fluency again and again. I think that this example is an illustration of that – and highlights the importance of effective Librarians in assiting students come to terms with multi-modal digital literacies.

The students have thought about the audience and the media. They have got a female voice to dialog some of the issues in the case study of a female motorist. This requires creative thinking and planning if you are in a boys school. The images that have been selected add to the narrative, which in turn contains some additional language that cant come from Google – “the independance of young people” – which is a key motivator in getting your first car. The students are talking from an authentic perspective, and using language to create a connection with their audience.

My concern is that the pressure to ‘mark’ work against far more simplistic criteria misses many opportunities to explore, discuss and reform the way we undertake summative assessment. Right now, I’ve been working on formative, to model ways to support learners and give them a real sense of where they are and where they need to go. It is so important to me, that we take the time to not only create projects that promote ‘creative solutions’ in engaging ways but also to ensure that students are celebrated in their work, when it includes a depth of thinking that cannot be summed up in a ‘rubric’. Online learning with online tools requires us to re-think summative assessment – or at least find ways to give students critical praise as creative individuals. That is something to work on I guess.

Learning with an audience

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Joe Dale, what did you do? – I finally plugged the mic into the iPod and went in search of getting some verbal feedback from 9th grade students who have just completed Green Up. This is, believe it or not, the first time I’ve attemped to make a ‘podcast’, but I hope that the boy’s comments will be of interest.

I asked the boys about how using a large scale, inter-class social network affected their learning, what they did in ICT before being in the Web2.0 Classroom and they happily talked about a range of things. Interestingly, I watching a short part of Jeff Utech’s feed from China today. I’m not sure who was speaking … but some of the questions being raised and discusses in that room – are what these boys are talking about.

30 minutes long and made with Garage Band. I think its a good reflection on the design of the last project, and certainly impressed me in how well they understand what is happening in the classroom. I am sure I was not this savvy in 9th grade.

Shakespeare’s Second Life

A quick flip-video of students working collaboratively to design and build their ‘sets’ for their current Machinima project, based on modern interpretation of a Shakespeare play. Students also document their design and build here in a blogging community. For teachers who are generally interested in using MUVEs and Video Games in Education you might want to check the educator Ning group here. I’m in the last phase of our intranet being moved to a virtual world, so the kids are going to be the architects and engineers. They have had 1 hour a week this year in Teen Second Life – but at least it is on the time table and in the curriculum!

Ustreaming Critial Friends Today

Today we put our filming room to a new use. Something I’ve been hanging out to do all year. Our students have just completed a 4 week project looking at issues and possible solutions to ‘Green Up’ the schools local area. Rather than present just to their peers in school, we fired up a few Macs and Ustreamed their presentations.

These presentations included their podcast/animoto clip, digitial representation and a group verbal discussion on the local issues in a number of contexts.

Students use a Critical Friends process for evaluation. They present their work, which the audience says nothing. At the end, the audience say what they ‘liked’ about the presentation, followed by ‘what they wondered about’. The presenting students then respond and discuss the feedback and work with the audience to discuss possible next steps that they could take to improve, not just the content, but the way the students managed the task and presented it.

We used Ustream to invite educators via Twitter. Some have been active during the project, giving students feedback and advice via their online community. A number of people asked some great questions. One of which was about the ‘cost’ of their proposal, which the group really had not considered.

Other students watched the presentation via laptops and were busy discussing the advantages and disadvantages of it. One student said that it was a great thing to do as ‘in the future, we’ll be doing this kind of thing at University and Work’.

The students adopted a completely different approach to the process than in the classroom. They were really excited to get the opportunity to present to many of the teachers and educators from outside the school that had been leaving them comments. They were also less aware of the teachers marking them in the corner, and much more focused on ‘presenting’ to the internet audience.

Earlier in the day, Sue Tapp spoke to another student via Ustream who had opted to build his final project and present it in Skoolaborate. We felt a bit wierd talking via text about his motivation and ideas at the time, but later in the day was buzzing with more ideas on how they could ‘do more of this’. Other students came up and asked if they could do this ‘streaming thing’ with radio – which opens the door to podcasting – something I have no experience in and have been avoiding.

So here are a few shots ‘behind the scenes’. Thanks to all who attended – it was out first run – and on the 10th the boys will be doing it again (with modifications) to the local Member of Parliament. We will Ustream that, and the boys suggested that we include the Minister – where they can ask her questions about policy. I am not sure that the Minister will quite be ready for that.

The students also asked if they could use the ‘blue room’ to record more things like this. They have been using it all year to ‘make video’, but today’s webcast generated lots of idea and discussion. It put a massive strain on the wireless we are running – which highlights what Ewan McInstosh was talking about last night in Second Life, that investment in infrastructure so things ‘just work’ is a critical factor in delivering experiences like this – with about a dozen watchers, plus the feed – the connection became a bit choppy – but we’ll be better next time – as EdTech Dave was busy recording data on the network performance.

Thanks also to Lucy Gresser and Sac Vuki (the teacher’s who let me mess with their class), to James ‘cheer up Emo Boy’ Capplis – the schools technician – and to all the wonderful people in my PLN that continue to inspire and support me and these students – well beyond the call of duty!

Teach and Learn

Konrad’s awesome presentation at NECC this morning was made all the better with Judy streaming his slideshow into Jokaydai and Will Richardson helping out with the Ustream.

Konrad is part of the Jokaydia Community in Second Life and a great mentor in Second Classroom, and has a great insight as to the use of community blogging in school.

His presentation will appear shortly on his blog. It’s amazing to get together with people who jump onto so many vectors for delivering, what is, a connected community message.

Konrad’s presentation was an affirmation that what is happening in our school classrooms is exactly what Im facilitating with EduTech with our teachers. Re-showing this in professional development will give staff a clear context for what the teacher (not me) are doing with our students in Study Groups – In The Wild (Year 12 HSC Advanced English) and the about to start Year 9 PBL project that we created during the New Tech symposium and workshops.

The power of peer to peer authentic learning to me is exactly what a group blog promotes. It removes the artificial ‘teacher lead’ discourse and promotes independent critical literacies. I only wish I could articulate what were doing as well as Konrad.

The room was packed out, people on the floor and lining the walls. It was truly an amazing experience. Thanks to Alan Upton, Judy O’Connell and Will Richardson for the amazing Mac-Tech broadcasting team!

Edubloggercon – NECC Unconference Day

Edubloggercon is the pre-conference, unconference held the day before the official NECC event. The day started off with a few hundred people voting live on about 20 different topics that had been proposed by ‘the network’. It worked really simply via a web2.0 site (of course), the most voted topics were split up into about 12 sessions during the day.

Most people attended one session and were watching the ustream of another and the back channel of a third, and no one really wanted to miss anything.

It was great to talk to so many people that before we just names on Twitter, but kind of wierd as they all know so much about what each other is doing.

The format for an un conference is simply that everyone is both presenter, facilitator and participant, and even though there’s an agreed format, people still go off and un-organise that too, holding impromptu sessions such as jail breaking iPhones.

NECC Edubloggers was a Mac Fest, this meeting had some of the people I’ve been following for so long on Twitter, reading and watching on YouTube. They were messing about with Mogulus – the webTV station and modding iPhones. Even the ‘A’ list Will Richardson got over excited at his newly jail-broken iPhone – great to know that is not just me that has ‘wow’ moments.

In a session called “Social Networking in the Classroom” the talk was mostly about what people thought about using Ning as a social network for kids. I didn’t agree with a lot of what was being said about getting kids to ‘create a social network in the classroom’. Kids have social networks already, and this is school, not the rest of their life. It is not the same, it is artificial to suggest it is ‘their’ social network. It does more like a micro-social network, having the same facets, but to me that is not the power of Ning in the classroom. This was a point of view shared by Scott Merrick (wow I just had a bitch to Scott Merrick!).

A couple of neat things happened, that simply don’t happen at a ‘conference’. I got up to the panel and talked about how Shareen at school is now using a Ning as a ‘study group’. In The Wild, is a senior study group, looking at visual representation in Advanced English. The power in this is not the blog (which all too often is a substitute for a writing book), nor the range of cool add-on tools that it has.

In a previous session, they talked about why many teachers don’t move from read to read/write technology and multi-modality. What is the benefit of moving, if in the view of the teacher, what they are currently doing works?. This problem is a classic advertising dilemma. How do we get them to buy this product, when they are happy with the other one, and have post of reference to motivate them to change from what they know, to what they might like to know’. How do we sell more dog food? Create more dogs.

I suggested that In The Wild’s benefit to the teacher is that they can see the peer groups form, observe the critical friends process of learning that is talking place. The teacher can ‘walk among’ the student’s thought processes, maybe drop in the odd comment etc., You can’t do this in any other structure. Even though students had to blog – their blog post word count was maybe 50 words. Their comment word count was twice that. They are reading, writing and critically analysing each other. So we might see 300 blog posts, but well see 3000 comments – the visual representation of thought.

Students who often feel, or do not demonstrate ‘voice’ in class, use the internet, to add voice … but the Ning does that, without being ‘creepy schoolhouse’ or making a task smell of, as Clay puts it, smell of ‘schooliness’.

Right now there’s another Ning happening. Lucy Gresser is facilitating a Study Group looking at ‘green issues’. The PBL entry document is a podcast, the research involves students looking at past video comments from the Green Party blog, reviewing Bob Brown’s video clips on You Tube, finding commonalities with these and things in their own local area. The end ‘product’ is an informed written comment back to the Green Blog, in which they reference earlier posts, connect these to the wider Bob Brown stated issues and their local area concerns.

The benefits over and above some ‘report’ presentation is that the students are looking forward and interpreting information as it happens, so can’t ‘Google’ the correct answer – the only way to do well in the project is to take an active role. Students cannot ‘knock out’ the presentation at the end of the project … which gives Lucy the ability to monitor a constant flow of ideas and critical literacies.

So far at NECC, I’ve heard a lot about Web2.0 tools, but only a handful of people – who ISTE refer to as ‘super star’ teachers getting beyond basic ICT/Web2.0 concepts. This makes Lucy a SUPERSTAR TEACHER. The tools are being used well outside their original intention – and the mashup is entirely focused on ‘just in time’ learning. I can’t wait to see it develop and compare it to the non-PBL ‘In the wild’ study group

Second Classroom & Edna Event

This is a really cool video. Kerry J invited the Second Classroom group to present at an Edna Event. You can visit the Second Classroom building in Jokaydia. Kerry did a great job of organising a tour of the educational spaces for ‘newbies’, and it was great to see so many take the plunge.

What makes the video cool, is that Kerry made this by streaming LIVE video from her Nokia N95 Mobile phone!

Students Strike Back

In term 1, 2008, students in my 10th grade Information Software Technology class studied ‘networks’. In the end students had to build a PC from parts, install and OS, network via a router and exchange a file. This was the practical component. Theory revolved around a group wiki.

4 students decided to take this a step further and hooked up 4 computers to a small router and discovered that they could not play Need For Speed Carbon, due to lack of graphics card grunt. So they then figured out that they could get Counter Strike to run on what they had. Now there is a bit of work in learning that as the had assumed that things would ‘just work’. On the first day, they opened lunch time game room and made a whopping $4.00. Their business model was somewhat floored. $1 per machine per lunchtime. So they figured out that this was not going to yield the end of week pizza they we’re aiming for.

So now, 5 weeks on, they have learned quite a lot. Desire for pizza has given way to working out what new tech they can buy to diversify from Counter Strike. They decided not to buy $30 graphics cards to upgrade the PC game play. They now have about 20 PCs, and making about $50 a day with ease, so didn’t see that they could charge more, and they have plenty of happy customers.

They have also figured out what makes a ‘good customer’. So are aiming at the kids in 7th and 8th grade.

They had some problems getting kids to ‘get off’ machines at the end of their game, so have installed a ‘cyber cafe’ application (freeware) to time the use of the machines and limit each payer to 15 minutes. This save a lot of effort in coaxing players off they game. They decided this, they found the application and then they figured out how to it worked without crashing the working LAN game. They have replaced older mice, got a few new keyboards, bought network cables and even figured out the router I gave them was slow and hassled me for a better one.

These kids are not Project Based Learning – but are the kids that piloted my early explorations in Web2.0. They now readily apply skills to end product. The original learning has given way to some very clever group collaboration, business planning and economics.

They have a ‘bank account’ at school and are using that to put money in, and to take money out to buy their equipment. They have made well over a thousand dollars in 5 weeks. And before you jump up and down, the most a kid can spend is $3 on gaming, and they ensure that kids are not there everyday. So they have figured out social considerations too.

They run the room and I have no need to get involved in the day to day running. They do come and ask the odd question, but on the whole I think that if I get involved it might turn all ‘schoolie’.

There are kids in there now who I’ve previously seen as ‘loners’ in the playground. They are creating new social groups. Kids in junior grades are learning from the 10th graders about networking already and it’s a growing venture. They are about to buy a Playstation 3 for the room – as they are seeing the need to diversify their operation … and working on a plan to run a prize based tournament.

All this from a bunch of old PCs that we’re sitting unloved. At times, I really think that it’s critical for teachers to stop teaching … but only when your kids have developed enough skills to be able to make more of their own decisions. This is authentic learning – and didn’t cost a cent – apart from having to go buy the Friday Pizzas (they need to budget for my fuel costs!).