Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Surfing the Wave

I wrote the following for an online PD class I am taking. The prompt was "unintentional learning." I thought it might be worth sharing here.

I am in a constant process of learning and changing. Most of my learning can be attributed to my online personal learning network. As I learn something new I bring it back to the classroom to my students. Many times this results in me having to tell them something that contradicts something I told them a week ago.

I feel that I am modeling for them the important processes I go through as a learner, and I believe that is more important than doing things a certain way. I remind students and myself that "learning is messy." I even hung a "Learning is Messy" sign on the wall, right across from my desk. When things sometimes start to feel out of control, it helps to remind myself that learning is not always neat, orderly and quiet.

As I find value in new processes, such as blogging, I feel compelled to share these with my students. I am sharing things almost as quickly as I am learning them myself. Activities like blogging are not fixed. There is hardly a right or wrong answer and it is difficult to anticipate students' needs, interests or possible problems that may arise.

I've come up with the analogy of surfing to describe some of my work with students this year. This is where I came up with the surfing analogy. I began a class blog with my 4th graders this year as part of a global blog pals communication project that was started by Kim Cofino, a teacher at the International School of Bangkok, Thailand. So many different things happened once we started blogging. There were times when the fourth graders would leave the lab after an active session of blogging activity and me running like crazy around the room, and as soon as they were gone I would sit down at my computer to try to learn more so that I could continue to help them do what they wanted to do.

It was exciting and motivating, but at times it felt out of control. I realized that student-directed learning can feel out of control, much like surfing. Sometimes you have the wave and you're up on top. Other times the wave is going too fast and you're just hoping to make it without crashing. And sometimes, you go down, under the water, and have to swim to the surface to catch your breath and start again. But you always go again, because it's exciting and worthwhile.

Image credit: Michael Dawes flickr photostream

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Why I Was at NECC09

After reading this post and this post about vendors at NECC, I thought I would offer my perspective to the mix.
I was a first-timer at NECC this year. When you add up plane flight, hotel room, conference fees, food and other costs, especially in an expensive city like DC, an experience like NECC is a pricey proposition for a private school teacher like me. In other words, I might have spent another NECC reading tweets and blog posts instead of writing them, if not for a lucky break.

You're thinking I won the lottery, right?
I wish.
I was at NECC this year because of my relationship with a vendor.

This vendor-teacher relationship has been building for a few years now. It was something that happened naturally, yet, in my experience, was anything but common. I understand now that this is just how Tech4Learning operates. Yes, they are a commercial organization. They exist to make money, and I sincerely hope they make boatloads of it.

I don't think any of us begrudge anyone else for making a living. I think the tension, if any exists, between vendors and teachers is that teachers, by the nature of what we do, are usually not business-minded. We are often not in the position to decide where money is spent, and many of us regularly spend our own money on supplies for work. There are stereotypes and bad experiences to contend with- the sleazy salesperson, the hideous customer non-service with companies who sell a product, then run and hide. It can get in the way of our pure-minded notions of education. But, let's face it-everything costs. Educating kids well costs money. Putting on a conference like NECC costs money. And I've never yet attended a conference where anyone was forced to enter the exhibit hall.

I thought this comment, by Dean Shareski, on Lee Kolbert's blog, said it quite well-

An important post. You clearly distinguish between vendors who truly want to make a difference and provide meaningful products and those just interested in a sale.
Kinda reminds of the divide we currently see in education between those really wanting to make a difference, recognizing there has to be a different/better way and those who just want to collect a check.

I completely agree.
It has been a transformative experience for me being involved with a company like Tech4Learning. First of all, they make great software. They seek student and teacher feedback as they develop their products, and it shows. If that's not enough, check out their website to see the free resources they provide including a lesson library, a ning for teachers to share projects and the high-quality, non-software-specific Creative Educator magazine.

I considered it an honor to be able to represent Tech4Learning at NECC and to have the opportunity to share some of my students' work in their booth. I found myself hanging around to watch the presentations of fellow teachers. I certainly didn't have to spend my time in the Tech4Learning booth with so much to see and do and experience at NECC. I was drawn there, quite simply, by the quality of the presentations. After each presentation attendees were given a full-version CD of Tech4Learning software. No hard sell.

I'm about to wrap up, but I'd like to share a story. This, to me, says all there is to say in answer to the question of whether companies can care about anything other than profits.
I teach at a Jewish school with a dual-language curriculum in English and Hebrew. We have trouble finding software for the macs that supports Hebrew. When I first purchased Pixie, we used it to make Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) cards for some students in Israel. Through her own network (which at the time did not include me) Melinda Kolk, Director of Professional Development at Tech4Learning got a look at those cards. Can you imagine my surprise and gratitude when I received an email from her asking if it would be helpful if they added the Hebrew alphabet to the Pixie sticker library?
Small private schools do not wield the big-dollar contracts of large public districts. I'm sure it would be easier and more profitable to ignore us. Unless, of course, you really care.

Learning at Lunch


Who decides when it happens, where it happens, how it happens?

I guess this question has been around for as long as we have. All kinds of assessments and other ways of quantifying and qualifying learning have resulted. We, all of us, educators and non-educators alike, discuss and disagree. What matters?

We must have proof! Proof of learning, to me, is change. When we have learned something, there is some type of change--a change in behavior, a change in vocabulary, ability to articulate, other new abilities, a change in the way we do what we do, even a change in the questions we ask.

So, I thought I would share another story in hopes of clarifying my own views. I, for one, learn through writing and through words.

This is the tale of The Scrumptious Lunch-

Time flies.

Four years have passed since I traded in my California teaching credential for Florida certification. My Florida teaching certificate expires next June. I must provide proof of my professional development activities (and, of course, pay a fee) in order to reinstate the piece of paper. I am nothing if not a seeker of PD, but I made some mistakes along the way in terms of getting the required documentation.

Last summer, I authored an online course for teachers called Tackling Tough Text for Professional Learning Board. It was my first time using moodle and my first time, outside of a school project, creating an online course. I also facilitated the course twice. I figured that was worth a few credits in terms of my ongoing professional development. Teachers can get PD credit for teaching a college course. However, when I requested credit for this experience, I was flatly denied with the following explanation,

"Teachers don't learn from teaching."


I was floored by this offhand dismissal that any teacher knows is utter nonsense. I tried to argue my point via email, but was again flatly denied. It's in the realm of things in life that make no sense- bureaucracy rules, jumping through hoops. I know better than to spend too much time or energy getting upset.

Part 2: In order to get credit for the time spent learning at NECC, I submitted my request beforehand. Along with my written request I had to attach a description of sessions I would attend. I knew that I would be attending an all-day TIE event on Saturday and The Constructivist Celebration on Sunday, so I submitted write-ups describing those activities. The write-ups for each day included a one-hour "scrumptious lunch."

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty. Should I be able to get credit for the lunch hour?

Time spent networking with my colleagues and discussing teaching is, in my humble opinion, valid learning time. The fact that I can enjoy a scrumptious lunch at the same time does not inhibit my learning in the slightest.

I will be submitting my request for PD hours to include lunch.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Google Earth Model Lesson Presentation

Ok, after saying I can't live blog, I'm now going to try it. :)
Session is called "Caravans and Google Earth" Presenters: Ellen Dierkes, Dana Livne and Renee Hawkins.
It's a model lesson (5th grade). Here's the presenter's website.
One-to-one laptop school, moodle school

"Caravans" came first, teachers were using, role-playing simulation game.
Tech teacher suggested integrating with google earth.
In game Caravans, students travel the world and do tasks .
All start in San Diego, assessed based on "travel dots." Students get travel dots based on things like map skills, learning languages, creating artifacts, etc. Travel dots earn gold pieces. Goal of game is to get gold pieces to collect artifacts for a museum. Here is description I lifted from the site where the game is sold-
She says it sounds complicated, but it actually works very easily once kids get started they are self-motivated, able to work independently.
Each caravan has to research and plan their journey. Can focus the game on particular areas of the world or can do the whole world.
Students work in caravans in their classroom, then when they come into the lab (once a week, 40 minutes) they learn html coding and work in google earth.

Each caravan group is responsible for creating place marks in google earth with text description and photo or video clip. Students use html, also create a template with important factual information about country. Each caravan responsible for a region and creating 4 place marks for that region. Then other students take tour of that region by exploring place marks.

Start with an already-created place, show kids how to right click, go to properties and copy html code that is already there to use as a starting point for writing the new code.

Not another post about NECC09

NECC Day 3- I'm sitting in the blogger's cafe, laptop open. There are about 30 other people here, some just talking, many typing away. I've skimmed some of the blogs in my reader and checked out a few links from twitter.
Everyone's manically sharing and reflecting. (For some excellent NECC posts check out this blog.)
It's not that I feel I have something so unique to add to the NECC soup of blog posts. Yet, I must blog!
I've been working hard to take in as much as I can. Of course, there's way too much. Hence the beauty of all the blogging. I can share others' NECC experiences, too, if I'm willing to read.
Writing and reflecting is one way I can begin to process and truly learn from this tidal wave of people, projects, ideas and words.
I'm amazed by the people (and there are many) who seem to be able to process and share in real time. I am not one of those people. I've been taking notes in some sessions, just listening in others, have taken a few photos, but I can't begin to understand what I have really learned until I have more time. Writing is, for me, an important part of the process.

I'm that kid in your class who needs a little time to think.