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Playing With the Possibilities: ToonDoo

I wanted to begin by exploring a tool that some of my students are using right now as part of a Literacy Circle. One of their assignments was to do a timeline of major events in their book and I suggested using ComicLife and one of my boys also suggested to use ToonDoo. I have never used it before but some of my students did last year during a Novel Study with our TL. So I took this as an opportunitiy to explore the tool so that I can help those students who choose to use it.
Here is a shot of me playing.

Here is my first attempt at creating a ToonDoo.


I then decided to use it for a purpose that I may actually ask my students to do. One idea that I had for use for this tool is to capture a moment in history. I decided to express a scene where a mother is preparing her son to go to Residential School. I wanted to see if it was possible to express something with a serious context in this format. Here is my finished cartoon.
Leaving for School

I think that it actually turned out pretty well however, there are some concerns that I have with this application. When I was looking for a background to use with my cartoon, I found that they were fairly Americanized. I could not find a field of grasses or prairie without a cactus or adobe house included. I do like the look of the wooded area, especially with the use of the black silhouettes.

That brings me to the reason I had to use silhouettes in this depiction. When I tried to search the image of a woman, they were either very cartoony or depicted ethnic stereotypes. All images of Aboriginal people featured feathers in their hair and loin clothes. This also applied to images of African people, Indian people and Asian people. They too were depicted only by stereotypical representations. Because of this, I chose to change the images to silhouette form. This allowed me to avoid that type of representation which I feel would be inappropriate for the subject matter. Because of this, I would only recommend that this be used with a disclaimer about the kinds of images that they would have as options for use in their cartoons.

Which Comes First?

I have been asked to reflect on how I think schools can implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning. I think that this is a chicken vs. the egg situation. Which comes first, the magical computers that swoop in to save the day or authentically transforming teaching and learning with computer-supported learning as part of the package?
I think it is the second option, the “egg” if you will.

I have seen the impact that the introduction of the laptop cart has had on schools and in my opinion it has divided us into two camps. There are those that view it as a word processing and research lab on wheels and then there are those that try to use it as an all-in-one treasure box of tools, adaptable to any project or situation. The problem is that there are still so many that that don’t know of the capabilities of Web 2.0. At the beginning of the year this year I had to put out a disclaimer to all teachers not to kick my students off of Facebook because it was for school and protest the WiFi password change that blocked students from using their iPods as computers. Frustrating! I listen at staff meetings as we discuss keeping kids off of YouTube, those pesky senior kids that are always spread all over the place, and how not to leave Inquiry Projects for substitutes to manage. I listen and then I defend myself. We have a lot to change and computers are not the answer. Computers can not reform education on their own because their potential is not fully understood by many teachers.

This misunderstanding begins in the classroom, behind that closed door. Picture this, 30 students sitting in desks (or maybe a tables arranged in rows, as is sometimes the case at my school), they have a lap top in front of them and they are working in pairs, not because it’s great to collaborate but because there are only enough computers to share. They have just been given an assignment, choose a species of cat, research what it eats, where it lives, what looks like. Write a report on your cat and build a diorama of it’s habitat. Viola! Project based learning right? Computer supported right? Wrong. What is the big idea here? What are the Essential Questions? How is this supported by technology use? It’s not.

My point here is that schools and teaching need to be transformed from teacher driven, even curriculum driven *gasp* (oh crap, I think I just lost my job) and be student driven and now driven. From maybe grade 5 up It needs to be about issues, problems and questions that the students care about. It needs to be inquiry driven and process driven. The technology aspect just comes naturally with that package because I don’t think it can be done without it. Until this reformation is complete, we are stuck in limbo between Cat Reports and Authentic Learning.

My school board is working very hard to make these changes happen. What they are up against unfortunately are resistant teachers that are close to retirement and do not want to change the way they teach. They have been doing the same cat report for 25 years, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Hey, I remember my Lemur report from grade 4, they were cute. But really, if I need to know about lemurs now, I can Google it. Times have changed and the cat report is broke. I am not knocking these teachers, they work very hard and if I was 5 or 2 or 1 year from settling in Arizona for the winter, I probably would balk at the idea too. Having said that, they need to remember that each group of students every year are individual minds that deserve to be taught in a modern, technology rich, inquiry based way. It can not be about the teacher’s needs or inconvenience, it has to be about the kids.

When this transition is complete, and I believe that it will take numerous years, technology will be just a part of school. It will not need to be integrated or implemented, it will just be. Teachers will be tech savvy enough to keep up with the rapidly changing Web 2.0 world because it will be part of their lives, not something they have to learn. It will take patience, understanding and time and I look forward to the day when that virtual chicken lays that golden egg.

A Peak Inside My Brain

Wordle: Learning

My Journey to Embrace My Inner Constructivist

It all began one day about two years ago. I was marking a Science test and thinking to myself how they really gave me no indication of who really understood what I had so carefully told. What it did give me an indication of was who quickly studied enough the night before and had a really good memory. I thought back to how I always flopped on tests (now, I know it was because I never really understood the material and despite my studying, my anxiety would wipe my brain clear of any remnants of knowledge I had managed to ingest). I thought about what I liked to do in school, what I remembered, what I was enjoying about that new Math Makes Sense program they had just given me and I decided that I needed to change. You know what I remember most from high school? Calling psychic hotlines in Psyc. 30. I remember thinking it was weird that the school was letting us (and paying for) call psychic but we were gathering and analysing data and criticizing what we saw on TV and in magazines. And I remember that and realize what I learned from it. So, I talked about my frustrations to my principal. She introduced me to the Constructivist Theory which I promptly Googled and found that yes, yes!, that was what I wanted my classroom to look like, feel like and sound like! I began to look for activities, experiments and these things called sim-u-la-tions(?) I had heard whisperings of at the board office. Then, I went to the Middle Years Conference and met my destiny.

One of the sessions at the Middle Years Conference that year was presented by two Regina teachers and was a profile of their Inquiry based classroom. They demonstrated a unit that they had undertaken. It was the Power Unit from the grade 7 curriculum but it was done in a whole new way. There were YouTube videos, simulations, debates, choices of projects and topics, integrated subjects, all the things I had always (for the last month or so) dreamed of. I decided that I needed to see these classrooms close up.

During my afternoon in the two classrooms (well, really one big classroom with two rooms and two teachers) I saw videos being watched and debated, groups working on projects, some direct teaching and student discussion, groups reading and studying together and it was happening *gasp* all at the same time! It was truly awesome.

So I went back to my class prepared to turn a new leaf. I got back the next day and realized…I had no flipping idea where to begin. Where did they get all this stuff, these ideas, these activities and I realized that I would need to make them ALL UP MYSELF! Yippee! That was one of the reasons I became a teacher, because I love to make stuff up but until then I had been held down by all those pesky worksheets and curriculum activities. So I set to work.

I began with an Ecology unit complete with field trips and videos and experiments, looking back, it wasn’t great but it was a start. I started the next day telling my class all about the new decisions I had made, the cool stuff I had learned and all the changes we were going to make. I was met with 24 blank stares and one boy sliding off his chair, under his desk and groaning out “can’t you just tell us stuff”. When we were engaged in inquiry activities, I felt lost, I did not know what to do with myself, almost down right lazy. Well, this was off to a good start. We all knew this was going to be a lot of work. And it was but I saw enough good results to keep me going.

Next year, new school, new start. This time I was in front of some pretty enthusiastic students (except for the constant resistance to Math Makes Sense. Example: “can’t I just tell you the answer. NO! You will explain your thinking and you will like it.”) Our bright and shining moment was the Structure unit. I had just returned from my honeymoon in New Orléans (our second visit, the first was pre-Karina) and no romantic get away to the Big Easy is complete without the abandoned poverty-stricken neighbourhood tour. I was still trying to wrap my head around how both government and engineering had both so horribly failed at the same time and I decided who better to fix the problem than twenty-five 12 and 13 year olds. So we began the Levee Project. I “front loaded” my kids with New Orléans culture, food (I cooked them lunch!) and music, a virtual tour of the French Quarter, videos of the aftermath of Katrina, my personal photos from both pre and post Katrina visits. I made them care about the city. Now to fix it. We learned about hurricanes, we simulated storm serges, we talked about the levees failures. Now, not only did they care, they were appalled. It was time to fix the problem. We learned about force, tension, building materials through online simulations not textbooks and notes. They redesigned the levees on Google SketchUp and fixed New Orléans and did a darn good job if I do say so myself. The New Orléans mayor’s office had no comment. Yes, I sent them there. The presented their designs to our principal. These kids knew their stuff. It was awesome.

New school year and the school board and the Ministry have decided that all classrooms should be constructivist and inquiry based and suddenly I am thrown into the role of school “expert”. I invite the teacher that inspired me to talk to us. I discuss what my classroom has been like for the past year and a half and what my challenges and successes have been. I am met with twenty blanks stares and “can’t we just tell them stuff?” *sigh* Luckily, I have three like-minded teachers and a very supportive principal and we forge ahead with our new plan.

So, two years in, what does my classroom look like? Well, it’s noisy, it’s messy and it’s spread out into the library and the hall. There are kids on computers, sitting at tables having discussions, building things, reading information, watching YouTube videos etc. There are some worksheets, there is some direct teaching but mostly it’s me floating around, leading my students to answers for their questions. I can be seen helping them find resources and guiding them to construct meaning. Sometimes, we stop to watch a PowerPoint that one boy put together on his own, for no reason other than he did not feel that we was able to express his thoughts on homelessness eloquently enough the day before (Note: This is a boy who was and still sometimes is, notorious for not working. Ever.) Sometimes, they totally are not doing what they are supposed to be doing (comm’on, they are kids and my classroom is by no means perfect) It can be chaotic, it can be disorganized and it can be awesome. Just when I want to tell them all to shut up and sit down, I stop and actually listen to the noise. You know what I heard yesterday? I heard: “No, the ribosomes are where proteins are made. Here, use these beads and stick them on the endoplasmic reticulum” and “Cool! the inside of this ball will make the best nucleolus.” The results I have seen have made it worth it.
This year thus far, we have focused on issues of social justice; homelessness, poverty, racism, genocide, pretty heavy stuff.

Challenges? Oh yes, there are challenges. Remember the “can’t you just tell us stuff” boy? I have one every year. And guess what, they have parents. Angry parents that want tests and book reports and spelling lists. These students and parents have caused me to question my methods, left me discouraged and sometimes in tears. But thanks to the encouragement and support of my colleagues, administration and board office support, I just keep on trucking. Re-reading the Constructivist theory information tonight has reinforced my belief. Writing this has been cathartic and inspiring. It is awesome to get all the thoughts and reflections that have been floating in my head for two and a half years down even if you all do lose interest after the first paragraph.

So how do theory, practice and technology connect for me? Theory supports the passion that I have for watching children learn and discover. It provides evidence for me to defend myself against those who doth protest too much. Technology is the vessel from which I can draw ideas and the tool that allows me to provide endless opportunities for student connection and creativity.
Is it working? Well, here is one example. It is Saturday night and this just landed in my inbox, it’s a reply to an email that I replied to requesting some homework help.

“Okay thankyou, i will try my best. Even though it does all fit into like one “thing”. it makes sense. Like a circle of racism. that sucks.”

She gets it!

The iDanielle: What I Would Like to See

I tuned into my TeachPaperless blog today with a purpose. I wanted to see what she thought of the iPad. I fully anticipated a plethora of great ideas and praise for all of it’s possibilities for schools. I wanted to be able to march into my principal’s office on Monday and declare that I had solved all of our technology problems and beg her for permission to fundraise for this new piece of magic. That did not happen.

And I quote “Will the iPad and the iMac someday merge into a teacher-approved wonder device? Not today.” But does that mean someday?

I began to wonder what exactly I was hoping for so I have taken to this forum to think out loud about my ideal educational device would be and so I reveal to you: The iDanielle.

1. It needs to be affordable, less than $500
2. Touch screen, no mouse needed please
3. Big enough to read a full website without needing to zoom
4. I would like to print from it, maybe a place where you can load like ten pieces of paper into a tray and it shoots them out the side.
5. Internet access of coarse
6. A Kindle like program to eliminate all of the pesky between library book sharing where there are never enough copies available.
7. All the cool programs like Garage Band, ComicLife, imovie etc.
8. A word processor
9. Downloadable applications
10. Enough memory to support games like the Sims that I like to teach with.
11. All day battery

Basically, all I want is an affordable hybrid Macbook/Kindle/ipod. Is that too much to ask? I think not so if can have my wish my iDanielle will be coming soon to the SuperWalmart of my dreams. But that is a whole different post…

Exploring the Possibilities

During the discussions about Teen Second Life it was noted that earlier Regina Public Schools groups have been restricted to the RPS island.  I fully understand the risks of exposing students to the outside world of TSL but I am  interested in exploring the use of TSL as a venue for  global interaction with other teens around the world.  I was very intrigued by the possibilities in Adult SL of visiting art galleries and ancient civilizations and I am disappointed that those types of activities are restricted in TSL. I think that it is important for teachers to introduce students to the possibilities of using social media for global interaction in a constructive and educational way.  They know how to use it to socialize but by the time they begin to enter post secondary education and the work force, social media will be used routinely for so much more than social interaction.  We began this course with discussions about teachers being responsible to use media and technology in the classroom because it is the reality of our students world but  maybe we should also try to keep ahead of the trends when we can.  I know that that sounds daunting given some previous discussions about teacher fear, resistance and lack of ability but perhaps for some of us that are comfortably working with technology this should be a priority.

I was exploring YouTube and came upon this video that made me think of the global possibilities of TSL. I think that participation in a project like this should be explored with students that are comfortable using Second Life so activities that I have seen like RPS Culture Project and Social Issues Project would be a great introduction to using SL.  After this, I think it would be interesting to explore the options for global collaboration.

Or how about this project.  Talk about immersion!

What I began to notice was that all the projects and interactions that I was drawn to seemed to be organized by Global Kids.

Hmmmm. Interesting.  This is something that I would like to explore.  I am thinking not so much to be involved in the organization directly but perhaps to take some of their  mission and adapt it.  Using technology opens up so many possibilities and it is very frustrating to me to see how often and easily the access can be restricted.  Just the fact that RPS employees in this class were unable to access SL from school shows a lack of understanding of the possibilities.    There are so many things that are possible!

And then I found this:

That was just entertaining!

Evening in SL

I just spent an evening in Second Life and saw some cool things and went some cool places.  I can definitely see the educational merit and the possibilities of the application.  I was interested in using SL as a tool to submerge students in a location so that they could take a 3D virtual tour.  My first stop was my favorite city, New Orleans.

Daiquiri on the BalconyHere is me enjoying a Daiquiri on the balcony of a French Quarter apartment

Inspired by New Orleans, I then travelled to Bon Temps, the fictional setting of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the HBO show True Blood.

In front of the sign

Standing in Front of Merlotte's Bar

The view from Vampire Bill's porch to Sookie's house.

I had a lot of fun exploring the setting of my favorite book/show and I was thinking about what I could do with this experience in the classroom.  Islands like this are not available in Teen SL and that is unfortunate but I thought instead that students could build the setting together, take on roles from the book and other town citizens and role play parts from the book. We could also expand the events of the book past the ending.  I think that that would be an amazing way to have students immerse themselves in what they are reading and respond to it.  This would be very similar to the project that I did where I had my students simulate being homeless in the game The Sims 2 however the major difference would be the interaction between all students that was just not possible in The Sims 2.

It is unfortunate that places like this are not available to students in Teen SL.  I think that taking an art class to tour The Louvre and discussing the art or to view architecture in ancient Rome would be an amazing application.  There are options for SL that I can think of but I am disappointed by the restriction and limitations.  By no means am I saying that we should take students into SL, it is no place for a child, that’s for sure. I wish that some of the same locations were available on Teen SL.  Maybe someday someone will create these kinds of locations for educational groups to visit and use in the future.  Hmmm?  Maybe I have a new career option?

Whatever the case may be, I will give SL a try in the capacity that I described above next year.  I will give myself a lot of time to explore the possibilities and learn to use it before I jump in with my students.

Active Patience

I just read a blog posted on Teach Paperless that I think was written just for me!  I have been posting about many of the frustrations that I have with other teachers, the school and the school board and the inclusion of various technologies and low and behold there is a blog written all about that!

The author talks about having active patience with others and by that she means the kind of patience that you have when teaching someone something.  She calls for allowance of time for teachers to use social media and technology to pursue personal interests (oh no, there is that time thing again.) in order to give them a space to become comfortable and familiar with what is available to them personally before they use it in their classroom. Maybe teachers should be encouraged to subscribe to a blog or join a group or even start by signing up for Facebook and get used to integrating technology into their lives first.  Maybe we all need to sign up for Twitter and Tweet out to each other everyday!  Not only will this integrate technology into their lives but it will create a friendly workspace!

There is no way to avoid what is happening to our world. We are connected in so many more ways than we could ever have imagined.  Being frustrated does nothing to help.  We should celebrate each other’s strengths and encourage each other to learn and use new things.  Any suggestions for how to get this started?

The Song Remains the Same

I remember using computers in school all my life.  From Commodore 64 in elementary school where we would practice our typing to the first computer in my high school that had internet access (one, in the library when I was in Grade 12).  Comparing that time of computer access in schools seems so slow compared to what our students are now experiencing.  I went through all of high school with a computer that did not even have Microsoft Office on it and did just fine.  All I needed was a word processor.  Now, with new web tools, hand helds, updates, programs, operating systems it is hard to keep up but I manage because I want to.  I have only had a Blackberry for two weeks and can not imagine how I walked around before without constant internet access.  I am a “techie” and it can be a lot for me.  I get frustrated with other teachers often and I have to remind myself to step back and put myself in their shoes and imagine how overwhelming this must be.

I had never really thought about a time when TVs in the classroom or overhead projectors would have been new technology. Reading it, it seemed funny to me and my first reaction was to laugh.  But it’s true, those inventions that are so common to me from my schooling, would have changed the face of teaching.  (Actually, I very rarely use the overhead projector, both because we don’t take notes in my class and because I have SmartBoard access) The difference now is in the pace at which it changes. It is hard to keep up, but fighting it is not going to make it go away.  Almost every student in my class walks around with a computer on them at all times whether that be their iPod or their phone and I would love to encourage them to use them to their full capacity but I am held back by resistance from others!

I am reminded of a project last year that I was doing where I needed my kids to research and asked them to use one print resource (just so they would know how).  I had a couple of girls that needed information on the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I told them to use an encyclopedia and was met with “what’s that?”.  I told them it was like Wikipedia but in a book and they understood.  So off they went to the library only to return a few minutes later telling me that there was a major problem.  I looked at the encyclopedia page that they had opened and saw that it was published before the wall fell.  I laughed and told them to get a lap top.  It was then that I started to really think about how the Internet was effecting my teaching and their learning.  How important is it that they use books because really, are they going to?  How many times a day do I reach for my laptop to Google something I don’t know compared to grabbing a reference book.  It’s a 10:0 ratio.  If I don’t do it, they won’t.  This has also changed what I teach.  In the article a reference was made to the article “Is Google making us stupid?”  My answer to that is an emphatic “no”.  I think it is just the opposite.  We have instant access to any answer to any question we could ask, I think it is making us smarter.  It’s easy, it’s instant and if we really care, we will look it up.  This has changed the way I teach in that I do not teach facts, I teach strategies, ways of wondering and ways of finding out.  I also try to teach caring enough about something to want to know.  This is an entirely different realm of education than what I was taught in and personally, I’m loving it!  And this is only the tip of the iceberg as I have only referenced Internet use in my classroom.  This year  we have used Facebook, blogging and the game Sims 2 to learn.  But again, all this is because I am comfortable with it.

The article talks about TPACK and making sure that pre service teachers are “trained” to use technology as part of their pedagogy and not an add-on.  I am not concerned about new teachers.  Right now the issue that we are facing is the fact that so many current teachers are afraid or unable or even unwilling to adjust and keep up with the students.  It’s not fair to the students to sit back and just wait for them to be replaced by teachers that are comfortable. When reading the article I took comfort in knowing that eventually, just like the TV and overhead, eventually modern technology use would be just a standard component of the profession.  As the kids we teach now become the teachers, keeping up with the rapid changes will be common place but what about now? What can we do?  Right now in my school board there is no Professional Development offered to teachers in technology.  Is it fair to expect them to learn on their own?  What about the teachers that are just becoming comfortable with email? When are they supposed to learn or be exposed to what is available?  There needs to be time set aside to expose those that are not comfortable with or aware of technology to play.  Maybe a forum where teachers who are using technology in their classrooms to share with others is needed.  But with that again, time is needed to access it.  The most common complaint from teachers that I hear is that they just don’t have time.  Having said that, I think it is the responsiblity of the individual teachers to take advantage of opportunities that are there.  Go to conferences, attend anything that is offered.

There is also another issue that the article did not address and that is the availability and access to technology, which is a constant frustration for me.  If we have people who do not use technology and are not exposed to how much kids use technology making decisions for how much access we are given in schools, we will continue to fall short on the possibilities that are out there.  We need people who support and understand the importance of technology making decisions for our schools. The only conclusion I can come to is for myself and others like me to continue to advocate for these things and share what I can. I will patiently wait for the day  that I will read an article about a time when cell phones/iPods/Web tools/etc. were new and scary. And I will again quietly laugh to myself.

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