Reflections

As I attended tonight’s EC&I session, I jotted down a few things that I wanted to discuss in my blog tonight and each one is related to questions that I have been struggling with for a while now. While Richard was discussing the history of technology, I was thinking about all of the things that were at one time so exciting and are now common place. From the first time a film strip was used in the classroom to just three years ago when the student’s at my school were excited because all of the classrooms got their own TV and DVD player (note: these have already become kind of useless and I would have rather of had my own data projector but to the teachers that requested these things, this was a huge technological advancement) But I digress, the problem now seems to be that there is so much available out there that only some will be used and eventually for everything, the novelty wears off and it becomes common. As a teacher, especially one that is interested in educational technology, I find it very difficult to choose what to introduce my students to and it does not seem to matter as they are so used to technology now they want to stick with what they know. How do I bust that bubble?

First, I would like to talk about novelty. I have always allowed my students to use iPods at school, in fact, I encourage it. I like that they have a little computer at their fingertips to help them with spelling or give them the answer to a burning question or give them their own private space to work. At first, I was like, the coolest teacher ever, there were iPods all over the place. Now they all have them and they don’t use them as much. When I give them the option of using some kind of Web 2.0 tool they just want to do a poster or if they are really adventurous, use PowerPoint. When I tell them that they are not allowed to make posters and only posters, they act like I cut their arm off. So why is this? apathy? laziness? Boredom? All of the above> My instinct is that in my school it is leaning more towards laziness and the difficulty of breaking them out of their “old school” ideas. (And I mean old school literally) We have relied on novelty to motivate students for a while now and it have come to the point where the market has become saturated. What do we do now that the novelty is wearing off?

I think I should show my kids that video! Personally, I think that PowerPoint are just fancy posters but for some kids, that is thinking outside of the box.

So, if my kids are encouraged to go further than PowerPoint and posters, what do I want them to do? Well, that is where it becomes confusing for me too. There is so much available out there for them to use that it is difficult to decide or learn to use many of the tools. They are familiar with Facebook and things like MovieMaker but when I ask them to use a new tool, they become confused and lost. The thing is, that most kids do not use Web 2.0 tools in their everyday lives. They use social networking tools and when you try to introduce social tools into the classroom, they act like we have walked into their bedrooms. It is hard for them to see that something that they use in their social lives can be used in the classroom and it is hard for them to let go of thinking that it is their’s. I think too that sometimes they find it uncomfortable that their teachers know and use the same networking tools that they do. It makes teachers human and gives them social lives, something that kids don’t think we have. Asking them to use Facebook at school and admitting that you know how to use it is now akin to seeing your teacher buying groceries (remember thinking “they eat food, weird?” I do.) I remember last year one of my students seeing me text after school one day exclaiming “whoa, Mrs. Stinson, you text?” So, social networking in schools is uncomfortable and web tools are unfamiliar, that leaves teachers with yet another task, making it comfortable and familiar. And if you are a teacher that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, then you have a whole other situation on your hands.

My final thought is concerning the motivation of the student’s themselves. I have been working for three and a half years to encourage students to think about and QUESTION what they are learning/seeing/reading/hearing. From that I try to motivate them to choose where they want to go with their questions and thoughts and what to do when they get there. I like the analogy that was given in class tonight in reference to personal learning; “choose your own adventure” and I fully intend to use it! Some kids embrace this style of learning and some hate it. I know that they hate it because it makes them think, work harder and challenge themselves into something uncomfortable. I also know that it is a set of skills that need to be taught. Technology makes it so much easier as there is instant access to information and endless ways to synthesis it but that also brings us full circle, if the novelty is wearing off and the options are overwhelming, where do we stand?

I guess what it comes down to is that I really believe in the value of using technology as tools for inquiry based learning and I have been taken out of the comfort zone of what I know to be school to pursue it. The difference is that it was my choice to do so and I still have questions about it. I need to remember this when I am working with my students that are embarking on this adventure with me (sometimes against their will) and have a little patience with it all.

I will leave off with an inspirational song. Hope you all enjoy!

Final Reflection

In my final reflection for this course, I will attempt to answer the questions that Marnie has posed for us. It seems like this has been quite a long journey as it is one that I have been on for a few years now. I appreciated having a focused forum for my thoughts and explorations. When I decided to attempt Graduate classes, I had a specific focus for my studies in mind. Exploration of technology in the classroom through an inquiry and project based framework is a major part of that focus. This course has certainly assisted me in meeting that focus. I am going to use Marnie’s questions specifically to address how I feel this course has helped me to meet some of my personal objectives.
What new understandings of the role of educational technology to support learning have you gained, acted on or perhaps strengthened?
I have always seen the importance of the need to integrate technology into my teaching and have sought out opportunities to do so. This course helped me to understand my purpose for doing this. I think in the beginning, I was approaching it from a ” cool gadget” perspective and almost as a novelty to entice my students to become more engaged in what they are doing. I will admit that in the beginning this worked, but with each new group of students, technology will become more and more commonplace and the novelty will wear off. This course has helped me to restructure my view of technology use from being the center focus to engage the students to making sure that it will enhance their learning in some way.
I have also come away from this course being more critical of the tools that I find for my students to use. For anyone that has followed my http://thegenocideproject.wikispaces.com/, you are aware of my disappointing experience with Youth Voices.. This experience has shown me that I need to be sure about something by playing with it before hand, before I commit to using it. It did turn into a good teaching experience for my students as I was able to tell them about my experiences and reiterate to them the importance of critically evaluating web tools.
This course also introduced me to some web tools that I previously was unaware of and often do not have the time to explore. Usually I will come up with an idea and then spend a lot of time searching for a tool that will meet the use that I am looking for. I know have a longer list of resources that I can refer to when looking for something to use, and I can pass this experience on to my students and my colleges.
What has had the most influence on your horizon of understanding?
I think that reading the blogs of others, both from within this class and TeachPaperless has influenced my understanding the most. I really appreciated knowing that there are others out there that share my philosophies of education and have experienced the same frustrations as I have. I think that this was particularly important to me as I experienced some resistance and criticism this year both from colleges and from parents and it was very helpful to me to read that there are people who agree with my perspective. When ever I began to question what I was trying to do, I simply needed to focus on my work for this class to rebuild my confidence. That was huge for me this year. Thank you everyone for that!
What new questions have emerged for you?
As I have discussed many times in my blog postings, it is difficult to move ahead and fully use technology in education the way that I would like without full budgetary and bureaucratic support. I am becoming more aware that I need to be able to work within the confines that I have in these situations and wait patiently for things to improve. My question is now, how do I find a balance between using what I have available to me in the ways that I am able to use it while still fighting for more? I am beginning to approach this by seizing every opportunity that I have to explore new things and use what I have to the best of my ability. I just received notice that I have been selected to pilot a set of iPod touches in my classroom to help the Board explore options for technology in the classroom. I appreciate this opportunity to be part of a team that may open up more opportunities for our students to have access to appropriate technology to support their learning.I will continue to put myself into positions where I can help to make things available to our classrooms.
Thank you all for your comments, questions and support during this class. Good luck to you all!

Creative Commons

As I explore resources for my students to use in their Genocide Project, I have been looking for images that are available under Creative Commons licencing. I discovered Wikicommons a few weeks ago but just discovered the coolest thing. When looking for an accurate description for what a Creative Commons licence is, I found Creative Commons Canada. On this site, if you click on get content, it takes you to a site where you can type in the subject of the image you are looking for and it takes you to a tabbed version of familiar search engines and sites like Flicker and Wikicommons but only profiles the images, sites and videos that are licenced under Creative Commons. This will be an invaluable resource for my students and I wanted to share it with you!

Educon 2010

Please visit my presentation on my virtual trip to Educon 2010 to attend the Youth Voices workshop.

After attending the workshop, I attempted to use Teen Voices in the Genocide Project that my class is engaged in right now. I signed up for an account on two different occasions. To sign up for an account, you first enter a potential user name and password. After doing that, they ask that you email the “community manager” and let them know that you have signed up and introduce yourself. After this, the community manager is supposed to review your application and approve your account. It has been a month since my initial application. I did receive one email from the community manager asking for my user name again, which I replied to but never have had my account approved. I then signed up for a second account, thinking that there must have been a mistake with my first application. I also included an email to community manager explaining that this was my second application and again, I have not heard back from them or had my account approved.
So, I decided to use some of the tricks that I learned in Block 6. I first wanted to see who links to this site. I found out that Youth Voices has won Edublog Awards in 2009, linked to and mentioned many times on Alec Couros’ wiki (if you do not know Alec Couros, he is an Education professor at the University of Regina who specializes in Technology in Education. Having taken a class from him he is someone who’s opinion I value very much) and linked to many other sites.
The site is authored by nine students and teachers from various places in the United States but I could not find one person that is in charge of the whole thing.
So, given the site’s seemingly good reputation, I am not sure what has gone wrong with my application. I am working in a limited time frame and have had to abandon my intentions of using it for the Genocide Project. I am very disappointed in this change but don’t know what else to do.

Information Literacy

My work today was timely as we had a lunch meeting today with Stu Harris from the board office and as we met, we discussed the importance of information literacy within an inquiry based school. Our comitment to be a Structural Innovation school in the 2010/11 school year will require us to rethink what skills our students need to be successful and it is imperitive that information literacy be the first thing that we teach. I is impossible to engage in an inquiry project without knowing how to correctly navigate and use the internet and the tools it offers.

I very much appreciated Marnie’s inclusion of resources that can be used in the classroom to teach information literacy. Some of them I have seen before and I have used in my classroom. For the past three years I have taught from an Inquiry and Project based model and so I have felt the frustration of seeing the information that students have to sort, manage and interpret on a daily basis through this kind of learning.

I started this school year by teaching (ok, trying to teach) my class how to do a basic search with something so simple as changing their question for inquiry into searchable keywords and still even last week I heard, “Mrs. Stinson, I can’t find anything about the weapons that were used in the Guatamanlan Genocide, There is nothing, I have to start over.”
I saunter over to their working space and look at their Google search and what do I see “what weapons were used in the guatemalan genocide?” So, I look to the person next to this student and ask, what is not going to work about this google search
“He didn’t use keywords” is the answer I recieve.
I am met with a sheepish look from the offending student
“oh, ya. I forgot” Okay, so some of them know, good. Then another student comes in exasperated,
“Mrs. Stinson, we can’t find any information on how the Rwandan Genocide began, like seriously, there is nothing on the whole internet.”
Really, nothing? So I take the student to my laptop and type in “How did the Rwandan Genocide start?” The first hits they get are from WikiAnswers, not the best place to gather information. We use it as a moment to talk about why. I ask her, what did you need to use? Keywords is her reply. Right. So if they all know it, why don’t they do it? I have concluded that they need to be taught more, saturated with it at the beginning of the year and then slowly marinated as they go on until they are flavoured with the sweet smell of literacy.
These incidences, seven months into an inquiry based program, tells me that my week-long unit at the beginning is not enough. I need to have continuing mini lessons through out the year and build site evaluation into the process outlines that they complete while engaging in an inquiry. It is imperative that they know how to navigate information online to effectively and INDEPENDANTLY learn from it.

The exploration of information literacy can not be sperated from print literacy and I think that one of the protests that is often made by teachers about teaching these skills it that they do not have them and they do not have the time to learn them. It would not be acceptable for a teacher to say, I do not know how to read, I do not have the time to learn so I just will not teach my students how to or use books in my classroom. Being literate in our schools means knowing how to navigate all media, including technology.

So, having talked about the importance of students and teachers to be technologically literate, especially in the inquiry and project based framework that we are now encouraged to adopt (which, as you all know, I fully support) I must get up on my soap box for just a moment, so bear with me. We as students and teachers can not be expected to be competently literate and engage in inquiry and project based learning if we are not provided the tools to do so. I have said before that I am very frustrated with the lack of computers that are accessable to my classroom. I also just found out that it is not just my school that will not allow student to access our wireless connection, but that it is a board wide policy. How can we make this work with two opposing messages? I am so confused and frustrated. Thank you, I will get down now.

The video below discusses all issues surrounding information literacy and brings up some interesting issues surrounding the teachers role, how information technology is changing and effecting schools and kids. It also discusses the differences between what literacy used to be and what it is now, have a look.

Things That I Would Like to Be Obsolete by Next School Year

I was reading TeachPaperless today and he posted the top 11 blogs from his archives for us new members. I was drawn to his post, 21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020 and I was excited by his predictions, especially when I noticed that some of them were already obsolete in our school. (Namely; desks and fear of Wikipedia) However, there are some changes things in my school that I would like to see obsolete by next year. The list of Structural Innovation Schools for next year was just released and I was glad to see my school on the list. This means that we need to make some changes for next year. We intended to make many changes this year and we had a great plan but unfortunately, there are many things that never materialized so please bear with me as I begin my brainstorming list of ideas of things to get rid of that I am going to bring to the table when we begin to innovate our school.

1. Negative Attitudes: We need to stop saying it’s not going to work. We need to stop saying “we tried that in 1975 and it did not work”. How do we know if we have never tried? Times have changed, we need to give things another shot. Change will not happen in a positive way if all staff is not 100% on board. We will have some students that will be intimidated by the changes along with some parents and we can not reassure them if we do not believe in what we are doing.

Once that is done we can move on to the meat and potatoes.

2. One teacher, one classroom: We need to work in teams with two teacher, our teacher librarian and specialists. And those teachers need to share the same philosophy and really, really believe in the way they are teaching. Without a strong team, everything falls apart. Our students need to be in flexible groups working with teachers on specific and personalized projects.

3. The lack of available technology: We need to have technology available for every unit, activity, project we desire. I want to plan my class around my ideas not around the laptop schedule. In order for this to happen, see #4.

4. The fear of students breaking the internet: We need to let them use their iPods and laptops from home. We need to allow them access to the wireless password. They will not break the internet. Sites with mature content is filtered. Besides, if they really want to see a naked lady, all they need to do is look in those dusty National Geographics in the back of every library.

5. Classroom walls: We need to allow our students out of the classroom. They need places that they can gather and meet and hear themselves and each other speak. This needs to include the hallway, the library and in nice weather, outside. We also need to get rid of the school walls. They need to get out into the community and experience things.

6. Teacher generated projects and assignments: We need to work collaboratively with our students to see how they would like to learn and even what they would like to learn about. We are now of course restricted by the curriculum so perhaps we need to show the kids their options and gather suggestions on what they could do and explore to meet their learning requirements. Maybe that is how we begin the year: this is what we need to learn, how would you like to do it? Let’s brainstorm…hmmm, that is even more of an interesting idea than I originally thought.

7. Book reports, posters, dioramas and tests: There has to be more interesting ways for students to show what they know. Invent something, design something, create, demonstrate, experiment in front of each other and see what happens and what they can conclude from it. The possibilities are endless and so very exciting.

This is what I would like to see change for next year and I really and truly believe that it will happen because of the strong team in our school and the dedication and enthusiasm of all those that want it to. Come visit us next year to see how it all turns out!

What is Wrong With my Kids? (and a look at SurveyMonkey)

What is Wrong With my Kids?

So I was reading my TeachPaperLess blog today and the author was writing about the response from her kids to a Blog Magazine that they have just started. He said, and I quote, “wow”. He wrote about their excitement and dedication to the project and the enthusiasm they have for sharing their thoughts with others. I have to say, I was a little jealous. We talk a lot about student engagement with technology and I have seen it before, but this year, not so much. So what is wrong with my kids?

The first time I introduced Blogging to my students, they groaned. Anytime I suggest using a technology to support or present a project, most of them choose the traditional way. So, what is it about them? Are they lazy? Has the novelty worn off? Are they technologically stunted from previous years? Are they afraid of learning something new? Maybe they just don’t get as jazzed about techie things as I do. I am feeling a little discouraged right now, can you tell? Is anyone else experiencing this kind of disengagement?

I think I need to explore all of my questions. First, are they lazy? Yes, I would say that they are but I have had very lazy kids that flourish when I ask them to use technology, so that can not be the answer for all of them. It is a lot of work for them to learn a new application and I can see how it can become frustrating when the technology does not work as planned.

Second, has the novelty worn off? My answer is, I don’t think so. Web 2.0 is constantly changing and offering new ideas and options. Sure it takes a lot of time to find and explore them, but they are there. Social media and online gaming are part of their social lives. Maybe we are in a transition where merging what is supposed to be “fun” and what you do in school is uncomfortable and maybe they think they are doing something wrong. At the beginning of the year when we used Facebook to take on the persona of a character from a novel to interact with other characters from other novels, they were astounded that they would be able to use Facebook in school. Maybe in a few years they will be used to it. I think that there are many things that are in a transitional phase in schools right now (i.e direct teaching to inquiry learning) and I just need to be patient. I guess this would lead me to answer my question about being technologically stunted. I have some students who in grade 6 did not “believe” in computers and they never used them. They did not have the standard four half functional iMacs in the back. Maybe that has stunted this group of kids. Well, if that is the case, there is all the more reason for me to push them to integrate technology into their learning.

I think that my answers for these questions lie only in the students themselves. I need to find out how they feel about technology. I think that this is how I will introduce my project. I will survey the kids with SurveyMonkey (hey! It can be my last web 2.0 exploration. How’s that for two birds, one stone) about how they feel about technology in class and then again after to see how they felt about sharing their learning in an online public forum.

(and a look at SurveyMonkey)

Well, that was easy to use. For those of you who are not familiar with this application, it is a free online survey generator. I simply created an account and began creating my survey. There were many different kinds of formats for your questions from multiple choice to short answer and essay. The website offers examples of what each would look like to help you properly format the question. Once complete, you are offered either a link to use in an email inviting others to take your survey or a code to embed in a web page or blog. You can also print a hard copy but doing the survey online allows you to analysis your responses automatically. This is something that I, being mathematically challenged, really appreciate.

I am using this application to gather information from my students but it could also be used by students to gather date for so many different things. They could use it to poll participants on any number of subjects from food preferences to use computer, the SAC could poll the school to see what kind of activities they would like to do in a year etc. etc. the possibilities are endless. In short, this application was simple and fast to use and has limitless possibilities. Highly recommended! Have a look at my survey but please do not complete it as you will skew my results!
Click here to take survey

One True Media

To present my project and the work of my students, I will be creating a digital story board. I am not familiar with this kind of media, so I googled it and picked one! I chose to explore One True Media. I think the end result of my creation was really cool and would be a really exciting way for students to show what they know for so many things from explaining a procedure to presenting an experience. I chose to show my experience with swimming with dolphins from my holiday in Cuba.
On True Media allows you up load images, video and audio and allows you to choose different transitions and styles. It has many options for formating style that are free and even more for those that choose to upgrade to a premium membership. The free options would probably be sufficient for school use. Formating your montage is simple and easy. Simply click on each image to edit it and drag and drop the images into place.
One strong criticism that I have of this site is the length of time that it took to upload the video file. I selected one video file that was less than one minute long and it took almost forty minutes to upload the file. I know that my students would quickly lose patience with this process. Uploading any video that was longer or any more files would be something that I would discourage them against. Aside from that, I would recommend the use of One True Media for schools. I hope that you enjoy my example!

Watch my video here

AMENDMENT TO THIS POST: I am not able to embed this video into this blog. I was only able to embed it into Facebook and some other choice media like Twitter and Myspace. It offers an embeding code but when I inserted it into this post, I was unable to make it work. This is a downfall for this tool but because of the ability to access a link to the video, it would not prevent me from using it or encouraging it’s use.

Wikimedia Commons

I am using this opportunity to explore tools that will be useful to my students as they engage in the project that they will be beginning shortly. Their experiences for this project will be the subject of my project for this class. We have being intensively studying Genocide, hate and racism since January. My students have been learning about the scientific origins of racism, colonialism around the world and at home, the effects of colonialism here in our province and how far racism and hate can go (Genocide). In Literacy, they have been engaging in Literacy Inquiries (for more about these read Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey Daniels and Stephanie Harvey) which is different from a novel study in that it has students inquire about the “big questions” in their book rather than just the elements of the novel itself. My students will be presenting their findings on Youth Voices a blog site that features the writings of youth. (This site is the focus of my Block 7, as I attended an online session at EduCon on this forum) I need to find sources that they can draw from to include in their postings as I want them to include images and other media in their postings. One of the major blocks that I am now faced with is copyright. I have been looking for a space from which they can get free, copyright free images to use and I believe I may have found it in Wikimedia Commons.

So, what exactly is Wikimedia Commons? Well, they describe themselves this way:
Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language.
Unlike traditional media repositories, Wikimedia Commons is free. Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as the source and the authors are credited and as long as users release their copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The Wikimedia Commons database itself and the texts in it are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
PERFECT right? Well, almost, I do have some concerns but more on those later.
So basically this site is pretty easy understand. You type your search word in and all the files that are available to you come up listed under a category. I chose to search Rwanda as I know that is one of the searches my students will be making. There were 683 files listed under the subject of Rwanda. I first selected the Rwanda wiki which also contained links to many of the individual files.

I am most interested in the images that relate to the genocide so I chose that category to refine my search. When you select a file, it will take you to the page of that file. Scroll down and you will see the information on the photographer as well as the permission of copyright disclaimer which describes all that you are granted permission to do with the file.

Most files stress that you must attribute the file to the posting author. So, I present to you, my first Wikimedia commons image. It is a photo of the clothing from genocide victims at one of the Genocide Memorial sites

Image Source: Author, Fanny Schertzer. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. Official license http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nyamata_Memorial_Site_10.jpg

Wikimedia Commons is very easy to use. To get the image into this blog, I simply dragged it off the wikimedia site onto my desktop and inserted it into the blog. This will be very useful to my students and the project that I will have them doing. Having said that, I have two concerns. 1. What if the image was taken from google, attributed falsely to an author and posted on Wikimedia Commons. Being a part of Wikipedia, we all know that anyone has access to alter the information. If this happened, would I be held responsible for the copyright infringement? Probably not, but it is something to consider. 2. It says that all files must be properly attributed to their author but it does not specify what that entails. When I sources the image above, I just guessed at how to do it. I used the name I found at the bottom of the page, not the posters user name and since it said that a licence for further use needed to be give that was exactly the same as the one the author used, I just copied and pasted it. I have no idea if it is correct because it did not explain. I tried to search their help databases and was not able to find any information on properly attributing it so I hope that I covered all bases.
Overall, I will be having my students use this site for their project. It will allow them copyright free media and on top of that I will be able to explain copyright law to them and show how the internet has changed access to everything! Another teachable moment.

Picasa

I commented earlier on the Wiki that I had used Google SketchUp with my class so I decided to explore what other tools Google offered. I discovered Picasa, a downloadable application for editing and publishing photos. This application also allows you to organize your photos into slide shows, collages, web albums, and video.
Upon first exploration I did not find many more advantages to using Picasa over iPhoto or any other photo editing and sharing applications. I was able to find two different uses for this application, one being the Collage creator which was easy to use and offers some possibilities for use in the classroom. Students could take photos that they have taken and arrange them in a collage for presentation.

Working on the collage

The finished product
Another unique feature of this application is the Places feature that combines your photos with Google Maps and allows you to flag a place on a map with a photograph. This could be used by students to plot the action in a book on a map. Students could stage events from the book and photograph them, edit their photos and plot them on a map to illustrate the setting of a book.

Aside from these two feature, Picasa was not much different from other photo editing applications. It offers some creative features and could be used in a classroom setting but it was not something that I was overly excited about. I am sure that there are cooler things out there to use!

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