Collaboration through blogging

It has been a goal of mine for a couple of years now to facilitate more collaboration for my students that extends beyond the walls of our classroom and our school.

To that end, I set my students up with blogs (via Edublogs.org) nearly 2 years ago.

What's so great about bloging?
  • I can access them instantly and leave feedback;
  • others can view their blogs (peers, teachers, family, friends, community members, and the global audience) at any time to see what they are learning;
  • they provide an ongoing log of what goes on over the course of time – in a week, in a project, in a year;
  • kids can post a variety of media to support their writing; and,
  • editing is quick and easy.
I thought blogging would instantly transform my classroom into a globally connected, deeply engaging place rich with student inquiry. This was not the case.

I was immediately able to connect with some teachers in other parts of the world via Twitter to have their students leave comments on my students' blogs! My students thought it was really cool that they were getting comments from Mississippi and Australia. Too soon, though, they realized that writing on blogs was still writing – which many of them hate. I chalked this up to the fact that I was giving them blog "assignments" with very little structure. Things like, "make a post to your blog reflecting on our last project."

Last year, I decided to give less blog "assignments" but to make the required posts more structured. I mainly had them using their blogs as digital portfolios. I gave them very clear prompts to guide their post structure and reflection. However, almost no students took advantage of the opportunity to use their blog in whatever way they saw fit. In other words, it wasn't theirs.

Why? Because I forgot about the connection!

Do_not_unplug_me

They were basically blogging for me. Answering my prompts. Getting my feedback.

The only truly successful blogging we did this year was when the project was created specifically for a global audience!

While I plan to continue the digital portfolio aspect of our blogging this year, I hope to streamline it and make it a little less structured. I'm trying to home in on the appropriate level of "boundedness" for their blogging environment.

Unfortunately, I don't think I've fully harnessed any of these aspects! In fact, I've criminally ignored the most powerful one – connection to the outside world!

So, my collaboration goals for this coming year are centered around blogging:
  • to get my students blogging more often;
  • with much more freedom and choice;
  • about a greater variety of topics; 
  • while integrating a greater variety of embedded media; and,
  • to a larger and more participatory audience!
How, you ask, do I plan to do this?
  1. Advertise student blogs from the start of the year, via Twitter, my blog, school newsletters, my course syllabi, email campaigns, word of mouth, etc.;
  2. Give prompts that involved choice and freedom within the context of our current project;
  3. Have students blog regularly (at least weekly);
  4. Revisit step #1 regularly to keep it "out there"; and,
  5. Seek partner classrooms/ schools to collaborate with via blogs, Skype, etc.

Note: Cross-posted to the Washington STEM Blog

Image used under CC license, courtesy of the Flickr photostream of crazytales562

Video Killed the Radio Star

One goal I have for the coming year is to have students create more videos.

I truly believe that today’s students are of the video generation. They watch, make, share, discuss, remix and act out videos.

Lens

I’ve dabbled in the area of student video creation more and more over the past few years. Last year I obtained 6 Flip video cameras through DonorsChoose.org and used them for a variety of learning experiences. For example:
  • biology students created movies to act out an analogy they had come up with for the process of viral replication
  • students created movies in biology about the genetics of race and racism (integrated with English and history)
  • chemistry students designed and created a video based game about the periodic table
  • physics students used video to record their Rube Goldberg machines
  • physics students also used video with Vernier’s LoggerPro software to analyze a sports activity of their choice
All of these were good uses of video and mostly productive. The level of engagement and effort that students will put into video is really amazing. That being said, I don’t feel that I fully capitalized on their use of the video medium. Something was missing – the audience.

I want to have them create videos in a variety of formats for a variety of purposes.

I want them to use video as a tool for gathering data, evidence, or observations.

I want them to use video to communicate, to share, to persuade.

I want them to use video to express themselves and to inform others.

They will create short and long videos. They will use webcams, Flip cams, and screencasting.

Most importantly, though, I will ask them to create videos for an audience outside of our classroom.

Image used under CC license from   the Flickr photostream of nayukim

Back to the future of education – Papert vs. Freire

"…there's a lot of truth in saying that when you go to school, the trauma is that you must stop learning and you must now accept being taught." ~ Seymour Papert, 1980

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"I state that school is bad, but I don't state that school is disappearing and will disappear. That's why I am appealing to all of us who have escaped cognitive death by school — who are the survivors here — to work on modifying it." ~ Paulo Freire, 1980

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For those who are not familiar with Seymour Papert and Paulo Freire, let me give you a postage stamp bio for each:
  • Paulo Reglus Neves Freire (September 19, 1921 – May 2, 1997) was a Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy. (Wikipedia)

  • I've been researching both Papert and Freire lately and have found their ideas incredibly relevant to the present debates surrounding education. Although these two educational visionaries come from highly diverse perspectives, their ideas often overlap in very intriguing ways.
    So, I was surprised to discover that a conversation between these two great men had actually occurred!

    But wait, there's more! You can actually read a transcript of the conversation!

    As if that wasn't cool enough, you can actually watch it on YouTube!

    The central conflict of this debate basically goes like this:

    Papert: "School is dead. Computers have made it obsolete."

    Freire: "School is bad but it is important. We must make it better."

    I see truth in both perspectives but I tend to side with Freire. The real irony here is that this debate took place in 1980!

    That either means that these men were WAY ahead of their time OR we're still going in the same circles 30+ years later.

    What do you think?

    Has technology rendered school obsolete or can we reinvent school to create something better?

    The year in technology – a reflection

    “we are entering a digital world where knowing about digital technology is as important as reading and writing. So learning about computers is essential for our students’ futures BUT the most important purpose is using them NOW to learn about everything else.” ~ Seymour Papert via The Daily Papert

    The past year was by far the most technology rich of my teaching career thus far.

    I have cobbled together a 1-to-1 computing environment in my classroom with a combination of desktops, laptops and netbooks.

    Getting to 1-to-1 was a big key for me in tech integration. Suddenly, I could start with the learning goal and work backwards to the ideal product and process for my students. This was a big shift from before where the process was something like
    1. okay, I want my students to use technology because, well, they should…
    2. I have 12 computers and 24 students. Hmmm…
    3. How should I group them so that some have ‘tech jobs’ and some don’t?
    4. What product could I have the group create with a combination of low and high tech?
    5. When do I need to book the computer lab (fingers crossed that it actually works)?
    6. Oh yeah, what are they supposed to learn from this again?
    Reflecting on the use of technology tools this year in my classes…

    The best of both worlds:
    • Printing student posters to share with audiences. Our district purchased a large format printer and I used it several times this past year. Students were able to create posters in powerpoint and then have them printed at a size of 3′ x 5′ and in full, vibrant color. This merged the use of technology for product creation nicely with the ability to easily share the product with an audience.

    Tool in flux:
    • Student blogs/ ePortfolios – the past 2 years, I’ve had students use Edublogs for blogging. Last year I added the ePortfolio aspect. This was mostly successful but I’m not sure Edublogs is the ideal tool for this. I personally love the WordPress platform but it is too powerful for most students. Beyond that, I don’t love the text-embedded advertising in Edublogs. This may switch to Google Sites or Posterous.

    Most valuable:
    • Just the good ‘ol Internet. Being able to allow students access to so much freely available information for research purposes has been truly transformative – especially with project based learning. Before, I was constantly looking for materials to give them to allow them to research and inquire. Now I teach them how to drink from the firehose of all recorded human knowledge.

    The tool I take for granted:
    • Edmodo – this is an awesome tool that I haven’t fully figured out how to use most effectively. It is much more powerful and customizable than I give it credit for. Edmodo has really helped to transform my classroom.

    Opportunity missed:
    • Student blogs – I would love to see much more discourse and research sharing by my students on their blogs. I would like to get them reading each others’ work much more regularly and leaving provocative comments. 

    Largest failure:
    • Making videos with JayCut – JayCut is super cool and super slick but our computers and lack of bandwidth made it almost useless. The students experienced a lot of frustration trying to make videos online. That being said, JayCut is extremely intuitive and they figured it out very quickly.

    Most promising tool:
    • Video analysis with LoggerPro and/ or Tracker – I’ve done more video analysis with physics each year but still want to expand it more. Beyond that, I want to find ways to expand video analysis into biology and chemistry.

    Tools I need to use more:
    • Screencast tools (Jing, Camtasia, etc.) – make short videos for feedback to students, for review, to teach certain skills (especially tech skills that are not science content)
    • Flip Cameras – have students create more videos to show learning and share it with an audience outside of the classroom
    • Glogster and Animoto – two great tools that I’ve dabbled in but need to get students using more

    Tool that I haven’t used yet for school, but should:
    • Skype – I hope to use Skype to put students in touch with experts or interview subjects or to share their work with an audience

    Tech to buy for next year:
    • More netbooks (need to replace crummy old laptops and ensure 1-to-1 ratio)
    • Pocket projectors – we would use these to be able to take digital products to an audience, rather than needing them to come to a room with a projector… imagine the possibilites!
    • Better scanner – I want one that is fast and scans both sides of a document simultaneously. This would mainly be used to make digital versions of student work.
    • Wacom Bamboo tablet – for screencasting and to use with my projector as a cheap alternative to an interactive whiteboard – one that I can put in the hands of students
    • Large screen LCD TV – I’d love to have one of these on the wall in my room hooked up to a pc or Apple TV. I’d have images of student work constantly cycling on it and then use it for some presentations or for students to watch video on.

    Learning from failure

    Failure is an unavoidable part of life. We will all fail, what separates us is our response to failure. Those who learn from failure and grow are much more successful than those who avoid failure by limiting their risk. In fact, failure is often a byproduct of inaction – yet failure from inaction is harder to learn from because there is no attempt to learn from!

    This is where my failure comes in.

    I rarely failed academically from kindergarten through 12th grade. In fact, school was always a breeze for me. I would do little or no studying, wait until the last minute for papers and projects, and nearly always pull off some of the best work in class. In fact, I often even dumbed myself down on purpose to not stick out from my peers so much.

    Now I know I was a classic example of a student with a fixed mindset. I was "smart." My self image was completely predicated upon this "fact."

    This all came to a head when I went to the University of Washington. My first 2 quarters were a breeze and my bad study habits weren't a problem – Dean's List in my sleep.

    I became more involved socially and less involved academically.

    Finally, spring quarter of my freshman year brought with it too many parties, too little studying, and a 2.3 GPA.

    Suddenly I was getting into harder classes – pre-med classes with highly motivated peers. I quickly realized that I was behind in many ways: motivation, study skills, background knowledge, etc.

    The story would be more dramatic if I flunked out of college. The sad reality of it is that I just never really caught up with my peers. I was always a year or two behind in study skills and dedication. I graduated with a 3.05 GPA that, while not a disaster, was not up to my standards.

    I also know now that a big part of my lack of motivation came from a lack of direction. I went to college thinking I wanted to be a doctor but quickly grew disillusioned with that path . The problem is, I didn't have a backup plan.

    So I coasted. I took all of the pre-med classes and actually enjoyed many of them. I just didn't have the drive that many of my peers had to get high grades.

    Another thing I know believe is that I was always called to teach. I can remember strongly considering it in high school and then quickly dismissing the idea. Why? Teachers don't make enough money. That was truly my main reason.

    Obviously, now I know that was a poor factor to base a decision on. However, it was really important to me at the time.

    How have I turned this failure into success?

    Knowing as much as I now do about the medical industry in America, I KNOW I would be unhappy as a doctor; maybe even miserable. I would feel trapped in that field by debt and expectations.

    I genuinely love teaching.

    I am happy to go to work every day (almost – you know we all have THOSE days).

    I wouldn't trade that for anything.