So I wasn’t there to see it, but Tess and Tucker learned Scratch this afternoon from Andrew, an 11-year old from “across the pond” from Perth, Scotland, during their weekly Tuesday “supplementing school” class. I had to be on an airplane to somewhere, but the early reports are that Andrew did a stupendous job, using Yugma and Skype to show my kids how to start to program their own characters and get all sorts of sprites doing all sorts of things. Neil, Andrew’s dad, (pictured here during the session) really gets to my own feelings about this (please read his post):
The implications of being able to find what you want to know from someone who is willing to share… even if they are not present… turns our traditional model of education on its head… and even more so when you realise that the person with the knowledge you require might be the person you thought you ought to be teaching!
I just find it hard to express how cool I think this is. And what a different world this is from when I was 8 or 9, and how envious I am of my kids, and how much I want schools and teachers to understand this very, very different playing field we’re on right now. I just absolutely love what my kids are learning, not just about Scratch, but about a world where they can connect with other kids, other teachers to learn, a world where walls are irrelevant, one filled with opprotunity and creativity and… I know, I know…I’m in a giddy place again. But I want other parents to feel this, to feel how absolutely incredible and different and wonderful this is.
Thanks Andrew. Thanks Neil. It’s an amazing time.
UPDATE: Apologies for the double post below. I was playing with Diigo, which does auto Daily Links to the blog, and running to soccer practice, and, you get the idea. Anyway, I’ll leave this up since it’s generated some comments…
Seriously. I want to know. What do you do when you read a couple of sentences in a post or article that really resonate? How do you capture and organize those snippets? What tools do you use? How often do you recall those sentences, access them? How do you search for them? Is your process working?
I struggle with this, sitting here in the Buffalo airport, reading through my feeds, waiting for my #&%*$^ delayed Continental flight home, an airline that, it seems, just cannot do anything on time these days. I’ve got a few compelling, short snips, all these great tools, and no mastery of this process. What would you do?
So what does writing literacy look like in the context of these Read/Write Web tools? I mean think of the many different ways that we “write” in our networked lives, ways that differ from the modes that were in primary use just 10 or 15 years ago when I was actually teaching students “how to write” (whatever that means.) Here’s just a quick list of the different ways writing occurs for me today:
- Blogging, which, when I have the time to do it, means expending some intellectual sweat into synthesizing ideas and reflecting on the things that I am reading. It’s writing that is intended to engage; I constantly put myself in the reader’s shoes and try to anticipate reactions and responses because (surprise!) the reader can.
- Commenting, which, when I have the time to do it (and I’ll stop adding that from here on out) is meant to probe or support or question. I wonder, is there a “literacy” to commenting?
- Writing articles or essays for publication, which is the most traditional writing that I do these days. The sense of audience is still present, but there is a huge difference in the way it settles over what I write. I know I may never get feedback on those pieces, that I may never engage in a conversation around the ideas as I do here on my blog. And that changes the voice, the tone, and the style. (Writing books would probably fall in here as well.)
- Tweeting, which has become a bizarre new micro genre, hasn’t it? Tweets are pretty narrow in scope for me. I Tweet to update my presence (“On a propellor plane to somewhere.”), to ask a question, to respond to others’ Tweets, or to play. But the asynchronousness of it makes it difficult. I’m writing for response, but I’m not as patient about getting that response as I am with my blog. And obviously, it’s mostly reaction, thin thinking, not sweat.
- Chatting or IM, which I am surprised at how much I do, usually in Skype and Gmail. It’s more synchronous, I don’t care as much about misspellings and errors, it’s conversation. But the way I chat certainly varies depending on whom I’m chatting with.
- Writing in video or audio, which I don’t do so much, but have a couple of ideas that I’m working on. Writing in pictures, digital storytelling, can be very compelling and useful but require a different way of thinking about the message, no?
And I’m sure there are others. But I wonder, with all of these different ways now of communicating in writing, does that change what writing literacy is?
All of this comes from a recent post by Barbara Ganley, one of my favorite all-time bloggers and one of the few teachers I think I would actually get into a four-walled classroom with again. In her Creative NonFiction course at Middlebury this fall, she’s leading her students into a whole bunch of different writing environments in ways that I find fascinating. I mean, think of what that course would have been a decade ago. Pretty much essay. Pretty much paper. Maybe some hypertext. Maybe some getting outside the classroom in limited ways. But check out her unit on the uses of multimedia to “write” online. Not only will her students be blogging, they will be creating group “Twitterstories“, linking to pieces of art and posting links to the class Flickr group, writing in one-sentence hypertext shorts, and creating digital stories using the tools outlined in Alan Levine’s 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story resource. And more.
Barbara blogs about the course, saying:
This is the most challenging course I have ever taught because I’m asking my students–right from their first days as undergraduates– in large part to unlearn how they have been taught to read, to write, to connect with the measure of their own work. [Emphasis mine.]
When I get to the part about literacy in my presentations, I always ask how many of the teachers in the room are teaching their students to read and write in different modes, in hypertext, with art and photos, in audio and video, using all of them combined. I’m surprised if I get more than a hand or two going up. And I’m sure that what’s happening in Barbara’s class isn’t happening in very many other college courses either. Traditional writing is absolutely still important, but writing is more complex than just text on a page (usually a paper page) these days.
Makes me wonder, with all of the different ways in which I write, all of the different audiences I write for, all of the different ways I attempt to communicate and engage in conversations and connections around my ideas, it makes me wonder whether we’ll ever see these many modes of writing as important enough to teach our kids.
Yesterday’s “challenge” was seeing if I could spend a couple of hours with a group of 11th year students outside of Vancouver and engage them not only in a conversation about the tools but about the significance of what the tools allow them to do in terms of building networks. And I have to say that I was really pleased with the result, not so much because it felt good to be back in a classroom again, and not so much because I think I had them pretty interested throughout (they actually came back on time from a five minute break.) The best part for me is that I got to pick their brains about social tools and their practice. And guess what? I learned a lot.
I learned that this group of kids, at least, is not one that I will worry about in terms of keeping themselves safe online. And I also learned that that is due in some part to the school’s efforts to teach them that but more that they have learned how to do that from each other. Every one of the 25 or so of them had a Facebook or MySpace site or both, but the vast majority was Facebook. When I asked them why it was that Facebook seemed less prone to suggestive pictures and profanity and other not so wonderful content, the answer was simple: you’re representing yourself there, not some anonymous, made up code name like on MySpace. And you want to use your real name because that’s how the people you want to find you can, and it’s how you find them (What a concept.) And what about those that you don’t want to find you? You simply don’t let them in the door.
I also learned that most of them don’t create and publish too much content on the Web other than the stuff they share on their social network page. But it was interesting to hear the experiences of those that did. One girl has created a number of videos and posted them to YouTube. She is the president of the GLOW club at the high school (“Gay, Lesbian or Whatever”…I so love that name), and one video she made was about “Gay Bashing”. It’s been viewed over 2,000 times, and we pulled it up and watched it in “class.” Good stuff. Now, you can imagine what the 39 comments on the video are like, and when I started scrolling them on screen I quickly went back to the top of the page. She talked about how the comments made her feel, that many of them were creepy, that she was surprised by the level of anger and hatred, and that it times, it scared her. But she relied on her friends for support, and overall, she felt empowered by her ability to create and publish her movies. It was really, really interesting.
And while there were a lot of other takeaways for me, I also learned that they didn’t really understand the potential of networks in terms of their own learning. Not that I expected them to. But I think I was able to get them thinking hard about that concept thanks in large part to a Tweet I put up asking people there to say hi and talk about what the network meant to them. The result was amazing, I think. Now I know that Twitter isn’t necessarily the best manifestation of a learning network, and I gave them other examples from my own practice that hopefully shone a light on the depth that is possible. (I video Skyped-in the always gracious John Pederson to give us his network answer “in person.”) But from an immediacy standpoint, Twitter is hard to beat. And these responses drove home some pretty important points. That learning continues after school. That we can learn with people around the world. That when we connect to people who share our passions, it’s motivating and sustaining.
At the end of the two hours, I was really sad it was over. I asked (halfway begged) them to make me a part of their networks, because I need some young folk in my learning community. Not sure if they’ll let me know how things roll out for them, but for one day, at least, I hope they learned as much as I did.
I’m just reposting this from Chris’s blog and urging everyone to think about spending a weekend in January in Philly on the cheap engaging in what promises to be some important conversations about what schools can and must become…
“From January 25-27, we’re going to attempt something really quite exciting at SLA. We’re going to host EduCon 2.0.
About EduCon 2.0
EduCon 2.0 is both a conversation and a conference.
And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is a School 2.0 conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we want to come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. We are looking for people to present ideas, facilitate conversations, and share best practice.
The Axioms / Guiding Principles of EduCon 2.0:
1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5) Learning can — and must — be networked
We are now making our call for conversations — these are the sessions where people present ideas, lead conversations, engage with people and find a way to update the conference-style presentation in a way that is more interactive, more progressive and — hopefully — takes advantage of all of the ways we’ve found to engage a wider audience.
Proposals are due Nov 1st. Please consider creating a conversation.
(Feel free to link to this post and/or to the conference wiki!)”
There are moments in this most surreal life that I’m now leading when I’m standing in front of more than a few hundred educators in a large, dimly lit auditorium and this eerie, palpable feeling of discomfort settles in around me. Sometimes, I know, I feel like I push too many buttons. Other times, I feel like I don’t push enough. It depends on the place, the people, the purpose. But when it happens, when I’ve managed to say just enough to almost force those who are still listening to consider some of the (I think, at least) challenging questions I’m asking, this feeling presents itself in this kind of eerie quiet where the only sound I seem to hear is that of arms folding in defense or heads bending in despair. It’s that “digging in” moment where I know now from doing this over and over and over again that a good chunk of the audience is not happy.
I had one of those moments, one of those audiences recently, one where while I think the majority of people in the room walked away challenged in a good way, many also walked away angry in a not so good way. The “yeah, buts” were out in force. And I know that their anger isn’t directed so much at me as it is the reality of schools, the reality of the change, and the reality of the difficult conversations we need to start having. (I’m reminded of Chris Lehmann’s Tweet yesterday that read “When trying to explain how much has changed and how schools must change… where do we start?” Amen.) But in this case, that anger came out in some really remarkably interesting ways that challenged the message and the messenger.
Yesterday’s Newsday had an article that said that a recent survey showed 61% of us “would prefer a “computer therapist” who is compassionate and easy to talk to” instead of the typical tech support person. And “52% said they felt “anger, sadness, alienation” when dealing with their most recent computer problem.” Or the most recent in-service technology speaker, I would guess. The new term is “innovation overload.” I feel that too.
But we as educators have to tackle this stuff. My own anger at times comes from the fact that I’m not talking to a room full of plumbers or software engineers or CEOs, people who aren’t working with kids every day helping them (I hope) become literate navigators of this increasingly challenging world. (Read yesterday’s New York Times article “An Internet Jihad Aims at U.S. Viewers” if you want a sense of just how challenging.) We’re educators, for goodness sake. Educate! Innovate! Where is the innovation overload for schools???
In other news, the Times today reports “that all 6,063 [California] public schools serving poor students will be declared in need of restructuring by 2014″ when NCLB requires proficiency in math and reading.
Yeah. Let’s just dig in and stick with what we got.
On many levels, I’m lucky. My children go to a good school where by and large the educators care about their well-being and want the best for them. There are computers in every classroom, the student body doesn’t get itself into too much trouble, and there’s talk of starting a compost bin in the courtyard for lunch scraps. It’s a safe place, situated right in the middle of corn fields and barns. The air is clean and crisp on these fall mornings, and I know as I watch Tess and Tucker get on the bus each day that they will be getting much more than the vast majority of kids in this world are getting in terms of an education.
My curse, of course, is that it doesn’t feel like quite enough. There’s not enough connecting going on, I think, and the number of worksheets and handouts that come home in the “Friday Folder” frustrates me no end. While there is some technology, it’s not used very well, from what I’ve seen. It’s more for automating (as Alan November calls it) than for constructing and creating and publishing and starting conversations. As I’ve said numerous times, it feels like my children are being fairly well prepared for a world that is already past, not the much more “hyperconnected, hypertransparent” world that is their future.
The good news is that there are some signs of change. Last summer at NECC, our superintendent dropped in unannounced on my open source blogging workshop. And, while I wonder about the wisdom of doing so, I’ve been invited to present to the school’s staff in a couple of weeks. (I’m already nervous.) It feels like there is an opportunity to start some conversations about how to really think systemically about change in the context of curriculum and pedagogy. And while I wonder what effect, if any, those conversations may have on my own third and fifth graders experience, it’s a start, at least.
For my kids, it’s up to me and my wife to add to the experience they are currently getting. And, more thanks to Wendy than to me, we’re starting to do that. Much of it is informal, such as narrating through our clicks when the kids are looking over our shoulders as we work and surf, or having constant conversations about their use of the computer when we let them online to play or work. They both have e-mail accounts which they check (because they get mail from us). I think we do a decent job of trying to model effective use (as much as we know it) and from that my kids are getting something they can apply to their own practice as well.
But this year, Wendy and a friend of ours who is home-schooling her kids have started supplementing their public school education in some more “formal” ways. Every Tuesday afternoon for about an hour, my wife’s office turns into a classroom where my kids are making wikis, learning about searching, and creating stories around whatever their interest is. And they’re being shown some ways in which technology can be used to connect, as in the picture above. (Click on it to see a more viewable size.) A couple of weeks ago, Steve Hargadon made a guest appearance using Skype to help them identify what they might want to work on in terms of projects. And there are plans to invite other people in to speak to them and help guide their work. (Let me know if you want to volunteer!) Real people, real work, real audiences.
Now I know that, again, I’m very, very lucky that I can offer this to my kids. There are literally billions of people who can’t. And I have an incredible partner who despite my frequent absences is able to make this happen (with ample help from our friend.) And I don’t know what type of an effect this will have on their “education,” but I do think it will help them see the potentials, and perhaps push their teachers even more. (The other day Tess noted that she had told her teacher to try to Skype the author of a book they are reading instead of send him e-mails…you go girl!) My biggest fear, however, is that it will only serve to make their school experience less relevant and more mundane. It’s a delicate balance.
And, of course, I wonder where this leads. I look at that picture and see a pretty compelling classroom, (as well as another pretty compelling classroom right outside the window) with a whole range of opportunities that most schools simply can’t offer. The more I think about it…
It’s the admissions part that’s sticky, but I have some. Over the past month or so, something really shifty has been going on in my own practice, changes that on some level are somewhat disconcerting.
First, my aggregator is dead! Long live the aggregator! This is the toughest shift to deal with: I have pretty much stopped reading my feeds. Here are the reasons I can articulate:
- Way too much travel of late…Australia, China, Canada, and my next two months are going to be brutal. I think my
- Brain is just fatigued, plain and simple. Which may be one reason I’m currently really
- Bored by the conversation. I’m still feeling like most of what little I am reading and writing is just a rehash of stuff we’ve been talking about for years now. It’s stale, which might be why I’ve been drawn to
- UStream. It’s fresh in one sense that in the process of learning it it feels like I’m actually getting somewhere. The gains are tangible. But the gains take me time (read: small left brain), time that I would normally spend reading deeply but instead now read
- Thinly, as in Twitter. I blame Twitter for a lot of this, actually. It’s a lot simpler, isn’t it? The lazy man’s blog tool. And while it’s great to have the network at my fingertips, it’s also a distraction in many ways.
Second, blogging is work these days. (Have you noticed?) It’s feeling more like shoveling the manure at Tess’s pony club…it’s got to be done, but there isn’t much joy in it. And I’ve got Tom Hoffman on my shoulder whenever I start typing, which isn’t a bad thing in that it raises the bar in my own brain but it also makes this more work than fun at times. (Not your fault, Tom. You’re just doing your job.) See many of the other reasons listed for my lack of feed reading as relevant here too.
Third, Skype (actually IM and chat in general) has become the major communication tool in my day right now, and I’m feeling almost constantly connected to a small portion of the network. It’s not unusual for me to have three or four chats going at the same time. Talk about a distraction. (This part, at least, was put in some perspective yesterday when Steve Dembo, in response to the latest Twitter outage, created a Skypechat room for all of his friends to continue the updates, all while in an important business meeting. Oy.)
Finally, the whole model for personal pd feels like it’s shifting. Yesterday was the birth of EPDN, the “EdBlogger Professional Development Network” (coming soon to a cable channel near you). For three hours last night, people were grazing from one live event to the next between the “K12 Online Fireside Chat” at 7 EST to my “Playing with UStream” episode on Weblogg-ed TV at 8 EST to “Women of the Web” interviewing David Jakes and Ewan McIntosh at EdTechTalk at 9 EST. There was a weird new feel that I got from all of that, one that on some levels was pretty cool but on another just felt like total overload (especially if you tried to follow any of the chat conversations…)
So anyway. That’s the state of my world. Just for the record. Today. At this moment.
Now if the Cubs had won the World Series…
Widely blogged about, I know, but I just wanted to include my voice in the chorus. The OLPC program is offering a special during the weeks of November 12-26 where if you buy one laptop for $399 you’ll automatically be getting a second laptop into the hands of a child in a developing nation somewhere. This is just such a great opportunity to support a whole bunch of good causes, not the least of which is providing access to kids that don’t have it and putting a learning tool into the hands of your own children. (Lots of open source goodness, too.) And if you do the math, a classroom of laptops for $12,000 with another set being donated out would make a great service project for schools to get involved in. (Thanks to Magda for that idea.)
So, put a pop up on your calendar…the holidays are coming fast.
A couple of stories from the road…
In Chatham, NY, some 4th graders found an injured Monarch butterfly and brought it to class the next day. Seems that it was unable to fly because its wing had been damaged. When they saw their teacher, they showed it to her and said “We want to fix it! We want to make it fly again!” The teacher was dubious that such a repair could happen and told the students so. But they quickly responded that it was indeed possible, and they had pulled up the YouTube video to prove it. Pretty cool…
Since the little “2.5 Cubs Fans in a Bar” UStream episode from last Wednesday, I’ve had two occasions to tell the story of how in this world, we can set up our computers in a brewery with wifi and within minutes be broadcasting live and interacting with an audience from literally around the globe. And on both occasions, from my presenters’ viewpoint, I could see dozens of people turn to the people next to them, stare at them for a moment, and begin to shake their heads in that “omg” sort of way. Fun moments.
“Bag it? Borrow it? or Buy it?” That’s how my friend Warren Buckleitner asks his “Serious Games Testers” to rate the games that he lets them play with at the Mediatech community technology center that he started in our little town here in NJ. For those of you who saw the live stream from there yesterday, first, my apologies for all of the technical difficulties (and for not recording it.) But there were enough interesting responses from kids to make it worth it in the end, I think. I hope to be back there next week to do some more “interviewing” and I hope to be better set up at that point. But gaming is something that I just haven’t really gotten in to and I’m realizing I have this incredible raw resource of kids that I can tap into to learn. Just like fixing Monarch’s wings, there is much to be learned from children.
Just a reminder…
“Breaking free of traditional conferences, the upcoming K-12 Online Conference: Playing with Boundaries (October 15-19th & October 22-26th) provides educators with an engaging, ongoing learning experience without time constraints. The K12 Online Conference is a unique professional development opportunity for teachers to engage with ideas and technologies that are having a real impact on 21st century classrooms.
The entire conference will be delivered as downloadable digital media via the Internet with over 40 sessions presented in four strands: Classroom 2.0, New Tools, Professional Learning Networks, and Obstacles to Opportunities. The conference launches with a keynote address on October 8th from respected blogger and author David Warlick and concludes with a global 24 hour live event, As Night Falls.
For more information, please visit http://www.k12onlineconference.org.”
See you there!
So last night, David Jakes, Steve Dembo and I met in a wifi enabled restaurant in Chicago to watch some of the Cubs game (sniff) and to put UStream.tv through its paces by doing a “live” remote broadcast which we Tweeted out as “2.5 Cubs Fans in a Bar.” Let me just say, in a word or two, it was a great deal of fun, as you can easily tell by the amount of wide-eyed wondering that was going on. It probably should have been titled “3 Guys Amazed that New Technologies Actually Work With Little Effort.” And while I don’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting on it, I did learn a few things last night that I’ll just bullet out.
- If we can do this using wifi in a public place, we’re getting close to really starting to think out of the box with technology. This was cheap and easy.
- It was fascinating (and distracting) to watch the progress of the chat. People, thankfully, just tuned us out and started connecting around what they found important, tuning back in when they heard something relevant or interesting. And they were teaching each other how to change the colors of the text, to connect the stream out around social tools, and I’m sure much more than that. (You can read through the 28-page chat if you like.)
- The global reach of the network and the speed that it reaches out still really amazes me. We had people from Australia, New Zealand, China, Argentina and all across the US. All collected initially, at least, by posting on Twitter. We got up to 43 people in the room, which was about four times as many as I thought we’d get. It is instant audience.
- I loved the fact that I was learning and getting answers from the audience. For instance, we were lamenting the fact that Twitter was no longer allowing us to see older Tweets when Karen Hokansen chatted in that it had been fixed. Ok, not earth-shattering, I know, but still…
If all goes according to plan, Saturday at 11 am EST I’ll be at the MediaTech center where I live doing a live stream interview with a group of game playing middle schoolers. I’ll Tweet it out a reminder, and it would be great to get some questions from the audience. I also might see who I can rope in for a keynote in Chicago today at 2:45 Central…
Thanks to all those that dropped in. Would love to hear your reactions.
The best part? We had 22 people in the room at one point, and there was some great back channel conversation and questioning going on as we blathered away. It was really, really fun. We’re going to do another show on Saturday, this time talking to kids about how they use software. You can get the details by watching the video. ;0)
Thanks to those that watched. I would love to hear your comments. Too. Much. Fun.