Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unlearning Cont.

Following on the Unlearning post I came across this list of 10 Things Teachers Should Unlearn on the What Ed Said blog.  I wholeheartedly agree with most of the items on this list but am perplexed by the third one.

3.  Teachers are responsible for learning.

I think I understand what this question is getting at, that students should be responsible for their own learning. Yes, students are more apt to engage and learn when they take ownership but I think teachers need to be there as coaches, mentors and learners in their own right.

Changes like these will not come easily for most.  We are hard wired to impart knowledge, to be the expert.  That's why most of us became teachers.  Letting students take over the learning requires that we take a big step back while still keeping our hands on the helm.  Thinking back about colleagues whose students have thrived and been universally successful, two individuals stand out above the rest.  Both taught in an atmosphere of controlled chaos.  The walls of their classrooms were covered with student made work and displays.  Walking into their classrooms was like entering a workshop where creativity and individualism reigned.  Yes, they covered the curriculum but they did so by taking many little side roads that interested them and their students along the way.

The blog post is worthwhile reading as the author feels the ideas are outdated and asks readers to comment, update or revise the list.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


This post, Unlearning Teaching, from Will Richardson (@willrich45) got me thinking this morning.  It talks about teachers as co-learners and co-creators with their students.   It talks about the fact that teachers are no longer central to networked student learning, a fact that should make us all more than a little nervous.  Unless of course we learn to change with the times.

I think this would be a valuable way to re-purpose staff meetings.  I can remember few staff meetings, or professional development sessions, where the focus was on ways to change our basic practice.  Most were focused on news updates, or perhaps an examination of the current bug bear: students late to class, homework not being done, chronic absentees or the new report card software.  I always felt as if we were on a merry-go-round, same issues, same suggestions for improvement.

But what if principals took an approach that explored the rich opportunities that networked learning affords?  If this exploration was done together, as a staff, co-learning, there could be many benefits.  Hesitant teachers would feel supported, successes and failures could be celebrated as part of the learning curve.  Those early adopters on staff could act as mentors.

In a world where information is easily found and cheap what do we as educators really have to offer our students?  Maybe that might be a good focus for a start-of-the-year staff meeting.

What do we have to offer that's of value to students that they can't find elsewhere?
How do we foster skills in our students that their future employers will find useful?  What are those skills?
As a staff how will we examine what teaching as a guide and mentor might look like?

Friday, August 20, 2010

From Twitter this Week

Facebook is at it again assuming everyone will want to have Places running on their accounts.  Phil Bradley posts on how to change your settings to protect your privacy.

Social Media Competencies for Librarians  Two specific lists of the basic knowledge and skills teachers and librarians should have and be able to engage their students in around using social media in the classroom.

VoiceThread Digital Library a database of articles about successful VoiceThread projects.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Networked Learner

A tweet from @courosa got me thinking about the power of networked learning and this is the result.  A person with a well-tuned PLN has a far greater chance of coming up with thoughtful solutions because their questions can reach a wider audience.  For a more readable image go to the website.


The diagram was created using Gliffy, a simple-to-use diagramming app.  Unfortunately this is not a free app. however they do allow you to create 5 diagrams using a trial account.

Monday, August 16, 2010

iPost about iPad Pilots

Image used under a creative commons license from Kominyetska

Here are a few interesting blogs about school iPad projects happening around the world.  I've included one that outlines a proposal as it was well thought out and may serve as a guide for others and another that serves as a question and answer forum.  The list is saved in delicious and I'll be adding to it as I come across other interesting projects.

Fran Speirs Blog

iPad Pilot Project a wiki from Palm Beach School District with lots of resources and information.

iPad Trial @ Epson Primary School

My iPad Journey - This is the one that has the good proposal.  I hope he's successful!

The one-to-one Newbie at the Digital Party

Expanding Teaching, Exploring Technology

iPad 4 Education - question and answer forum

iPad's Promise and How to Use it Now on the I Education Apps Review blog

Brandt Schneider is blogging about using iPads in music class.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A few Twitter Gems

Iconscrabble: This tool is similar to Spell with Flickr but instead uses icons to spell the words you type in.

NewsCred:  Create your own newspaper with topics you choose from papers around the world.   Choose from world news, sports, entertainment, business, technology, politics. I can't see any way to embed your newspaper in a blog without going to the pay option but you can share it out using twitter or email.  I think if you wanted to use this with a class you could tweet out the link to a class twitter account.   You can add your own editorial comments.   This would be a good place to write questions for discussion, prompts or observations.  There are a range of options for adding in links, images, lists and other style options.  Very easy to use.  Once posted, editorials can be edited, deleted or unpublished.  Comments may be added.

Search the Internet for guides on any topic of your choosing.  
The GuideDB searches for pdf and other eguides, ebooks, manuals etc.  The search also returns a list of related guides.  Finds guides to everything, seriously, I even did a search for 'zwieback' and got results. 

Thanks for tweeting these goes to @shannonmiller and @Larryferlazzo!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A New Way to School - Discussion

Thanks for challenging my thinking, Carl!  In writing this reply I run the risk of plagiarizing as I have been reading so many ideas around how education might change in other's blogs or through online presentations.  If I do so please forgive me/let me know if an idea was yours originally.

First I need to clarify.  By 'senior administration' I mean those administrators we now have as trustees and school board or ministry officials, in other words the hierarchy that is already in place.  Every teacher knows that students will live up to our expectations of them.  Show them trust and respect and they will respond.  When officials block and hamper permissive and informal networked learning they are showing their mistrust of teachers.  In effect, telling teachers it's a scary world out there and we don't trust you to safely guide our young people through it.  Unfortunately these decisions are often made by those who aren't teachers and are not taking the time to explore the merits of online networked learning for themselves.  For them, it's simply easier to block than to put protocols in place and deal with the rare parental complaints.

So how do we 'train' teachers?

One way might be to model good practice.  Among others, both Alec Couros (@courosa) and Dean Shareski (@shareski)  make good use of social media tools in their pre-service teaching classes.  They demonstrate the merits of social media as well as requiring students to participate by using blogs, twitter and other tools.

Another might be to guide teachers through a series of questions or problems based on scenarios using social media tools in the classroom.  For example:  With the world of knowledge at their fingertips through mobile devices how might you challenge your students to discover their passions while learning to be good communicators, collaborators and contributors?  I know that's a mouthful but I hope you get the idea.  As a teacher librarian I always pushed teachers who wanted to bring their classes to the library for research by asking them:  What skills will your students need to be successful on this assignment?  How will we accommodate individual interests or learning styles?  How can we encourage students to collaborate?  Is there a way to relate this to a more meaningful real world scenario.  How can we allow students to demonstrate competency in a variety of ways?  Who is working harder on this assignment, you or your students?  How can we provide ongoing mentoring and assessment as opposed to waiting until the assignment is in to grade it?

We need to start honouring teachers who say, "I don't know."  These are the ones who are willing to learn.  If they can say that in teacher training or in the staffroom perhaps it will be easier to say it to their students, "I don't know.  How can we find out?  What ideas do you have to solve this problem?  Let's try..."

Another random thought:  I have heard that schools in Japan do not have government mandated universal tests because teachers simply refused to administer them.  They still write exams on leaving high school but not at lower grade levels.  If this is true it would free teachers up to teach to students' passions and engage them in activities that were meaningful and provided authentic, real world experiences.  Oh course getting educators in North America to take such a stand is a whole other issue.

Who else has some ideas?

A New Way to School

I'm excited about posting today for two reasons.  One,  I found that through my local library's web site I can access a wide variety of current and archived newspapers using PressDisplay.  This service also allows me to post articles I wish to share directly into blogger.  You'll see the result below.  (This would be a useful feature for classroom blogs where teachers wish to engage students in current news.)

School to try streaming students in Grade 2
The Vancouver Sun
11 Aug 2010

Choosing an area of specialization is one of the biggest decisions of a student’s academic life. Not least when they’re entering Grade 2. A new program at a Calgary area elementary school will soon see children as young as seven placed in more...

The second reason is that this article follows on the heels of a question Carl Anderson posed in a previous post:

"So, my question is, how do we provide learning environments that are both permissive and instructive, environments that harness the power of informal learning the network provides but also the guidance our traditional system is supposed to give our students? "

This new school is an exciting concept that allows students to take more ownership of their own learning.  I see it as a move away from the current lock-step system whose aim is to produce students with a rigidly focused skill set that stifles individuality in the name of producing a uniform workforce.

I think teachers who will thrive in this new kind of environment will have a passion for the subjects they teach and be able to pass that on to their students.  They will be experts as well as learners and they will model effective learning for and with their students.  They will understand that they don't need to know everything in order to help their students learn.

They will be fearless risk takers who also possess a good dose of common sense.  They will understand that evaluation is not grading regurgitation but should assess each student's ability to take knowledge and skills and apply them in new situations, with new problems.  

They will be good at collaboration and communication.  They will be able to recognize innovation and uniqueness and support those students who are innovators and creators.

So part of the challenge lies in encouraging current teachers to change the way they do business and part in training and attracting new teachers with passion who love the idea of mentoring learners.  A little trust and support at the senior administrative level would go a long way as well.   I know there are many teachers and schools out there experimenting successfully with new models,  let's hope the trend spreads.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The How and the Why of Teamwork

Photo credit: matthew_hull from

A post on Twitter led me to a great little PDF titled 7 Things You Should Know About Assessing Online Team-Based Learning on the Educause site.  While this article is aimed at post-secondary educators there are ideas worth considering at elementary and high school levels.  Assigning group work seems to elicit two responses from students:

1.  We never have time to meet face-to-face.
2.  The marking is never fair because one or two people do all the work.

Perhaps teachers need to consider why it may be important to assign group tasks in the first place and then figure out the logistics of how such assignments could be made to work well.  The article provides a number of suggestions.  Involving the class in these two first steps might also make a difference in how students buy in to a project.  I like the 'best case' scenario described at the beginning of the document because team members took the time to find out what skills each individual had that could be utilized in constructing their product.  Do younger students know how to assess their existing skills and apply them to current assignments?  How do we teach that?  Some ideas might be to:

  • Brainstorm vocabulary that describes skills:  good at writing/spelling, artist, speaker, loves interviewing people, likes keeping things in order.
  • Identify the tasks needed to complete the 
  • assignment and match them to the skills list.
  • Have students choose from a list of skills or attributes or write their own.  "On this project I would be good at .... recording, drawing, leading a team meeting, finding information".

The article goes on to say that the value of team work may not reside solely in the final product but in the steps leading to its creation.  Are there useful tools for using formative assessment techniques on group projects?  I like Google Docs for its "revision history" feature that allows students and teachers to see who has contributed, when and how often, and assess the merits of each contribution.  The document itself gives a snapshot of the students' organizational abilities.  Brainstorming ideas and reflections can take place within the document as well.  VoiceThread is another option that allows students to make individual contributions to a group project.

What have you learned from doing group projects with students?  I'd love to hear so please leave a comment.

Other useful resources:
Collaborating Rubric - Bloom's Digital Taxonomy
WSD's eToolBox - Formative Assessment
Tom Barrett's Marking Work in Google Docs