Networks : Connecting our learners

YourEduStoryThe #YourEduStory challenge for this week is What is connected learning and WIIFM?”  (WIIFM = What’s in it for me?) and I realised that I had an unpublished post from 2013 (among many others) that could partially address this topic.

 

In 2013, I wrote:

As our world of information overload expands, the use of our networks is getting more and more valuable.  Happily accepting that we cannot answer all questions, but that we can help our learners (whether students or teachers)  connect with someone who can, is an important mindset of a modern teacher and learner. I gain solace when I am able to connect people, use my online or face to face Professional Learning network (PLN) and say “I don’t know anything about that, but I just might know someone who does !”

I am grateful for the people in my network and I believe the power of these connections is hugely amplified when we each act as ‘nodes’ or connectors to each others networks.  On Twitter I regularly see people requesting information from their PLN as they are trusted sources and people willing to help.

My experience indicates that many of our students have yet to see or be exposed to the value or purpose in networking beyond their school environment.  We often read that they are already using the power of networks in their social lives, in online games etc but schools are not mirroring this activity.

School must embrace this and model the value of connecting. Class and student blogs, class Twitter accounts, Edmodo, shared Google documents etc, are some of the wonderful vehicles for this connection.   Recently one of our students published her work from a Positive Education program on her blog, another school picked it up and used her content for class discussion.  The excitement from the young blogger was palpable – she was contributing to other students learning and they were adding value to hers.

Relevant and timely exposure to the value of connecting as learners will provide our students with essential skills.  

That was 2 years ago and it still stands.  In a few hours at work last week, I spent time getting the nuts and bolts sorted so that our students have access to their own blogs, their Google Apps for Ed accounts, Edmodo accounts.  It was tedious administration but vital to exposing them to this type of learning.

The ‘What’s in it for me?” question is partly a no-brainer as Heather so well describes but also a bit awkward.  The essence of being connected implies a mutual benefit – sometimes the balance goes one way more than another, but we are more in to the “What’s in it for us?”

Reading Nancy’s response to this prompt, I connected in numerous ways to her story and in particular to “These connections did not happen accidentally.”   Like any relationship, they have to be worked on, cultivated and allow to mature and change.

 

Learning shared … in different ways

Neetz 365   A year in the mind of AnitaI am proud to say that I have a decent relationship with my daughters aged 19 and 22.  We chat, share laughs, discuss issues and disagree like any fairly normal mother-daughter relationship.  I accept that my children as they mature pick the pieces of their lives and thoughts that they want to share with their parents, just as I did with mine.

My 22 year old has been a writer all her life – words have been her friend: spoken, read, written and sung.  She has, in fact recently, begun a career using these skills in a Marketing Communications role.  A rich blessing I will say has been passed on from her grand-mother who in her later years shared many musings in the written form.  She has dabbled in blogging for a number of years and I always enjoy the conversations that often lead to a post as well as the end result. 

When someone writes, they often expose themselves in different ways than they would in spoken language and this is never more true than in the recent days when my 19 year old has begun a blog – challenging herself to post each day. When I read her posts feels like I am getting to know her in a different way.  I am seeing a side of her that I admit I had not acknowledged or recognised earlier.  Perhaps it is a result of maturity and a bit of life experience but it is definitely providing an interesting read : enlightening in many ways.

It makes me think about our classrooms and the importance of providing our students with a variety of outlets for expressing themselves, sharing their learning and expressing themselves.  Sometimes, they may not be ready to use a tool in way they may later in their lives but they will learn along the way nevertheless. Our students should be invited to write on paper, in a journal, sketch, write a blog post, draw, paint, record a podcast, prepare a speech, compose a song, write an essay and any other format you can think of.

Our students, like my daughter, may surprise you if given the chance.  The teacher role in this is exposing them to a variety of media, digital and non-digital : many of these ideas will not be in their toolkit unless they are introduced to them. Many will suit them at some times and for some purposes but not for all.

In the meantime, I will keep enjoying the glimpse into the other side of my girl !

 

 

Technology bashing

I am getting a bit tired of the fear mongering and rhetoric going on around the use of technology both in schools and in the wider community.

I, for one, have never said that technology use should replace ALL other activities, that pen and paper have been superceded by a superior force.  I have actually never heard anyone even tech evangelists suggest such a thing.

Nevertheless, I find myself constantly hearing and reading Warnings about the potential harm of too much screen time.   Listening to teachers who seem to glow with relief when someone says “It’s not all about technology” and almost outwardly heaving a sigh of relief that the role of tech is challenged.   Current affair television thrive on articles about research showing how family lives are being harmed by over use of technology and communication tools.   I almost shout at the TV to say “Where are the parents, the teachers who should be setting BOUNDARIES, producing opportunities for BALANCE and supporting their students or children in PURPOSEFUL use?”

I am left wondering why people have this resistance and I assume it is a fear or a definite discomfort with change.  The media certainly thrive on any opportunity to spout the ‘Technology is evil’ campaign. A friend brought this brilliant blog post to my attention :

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Crowley debunks the fear mongering and explains the situation as part of evolution.  Mark Crowley concludes:

There can be no question but that technology can provide the potential for isolation, for synthetic relationships, for a sedentary lifestyle, an anxiety-ridden social existence, a failure to focus, concentrate, and engage. But surely this is a worst-case scenario conception of technology without balance, without thoughtful schools, informed, engaged parents? An education system that emphasises the need to be cultured as well as educated, well-read as well as literate, articulate as well as able to skim, physically healthy as well as mentally engaged … surely an individual in this context will only benefit from the interactive tools of contemporary technology to allow them to create, design, persuade and engage? Yes, perhaps our brains will be rewired in the process, but isn’t that what the brain has always done throughout history? Perhaps Feifer sums it up best: “Our brains changed to meet the challenge of driving cars. They changed so we could dance to recorded music. Now we are witnessing more change, and our brains will change again. Yes, change can be scary. But it’s what we’re built for.”

Perhaps, I take it too personally as my job involves trying to get technology used in thoughtful, purposeful ways and I am affronted by people who cling to the negativity, inferring I might not be making judicious decisions.  I rarely, if ever see teachers using technology because they are mandated, they always make wise, considered choices about where it will enhance the learning.  Is the negativity a band-wagon that will have its’ day?  I hope so.  

Ferriter : https://www.flickr.com/photos/plugusin/5333410499/

Ferriter : https://www.flickr.com/photos/plugusin/5333410499/

 

 

 

 

Learning in 100 words

This #EduStory Challenge is “Define “learning” in 100 words or less”

So I ‘Googled’ it and that provided the expected vocabulary:

learning

 I then thought about what learning means to me and these words came to mind:

I am going to cheat and not try and put them in a sentence and I am sure more will come to mind. Perhaps one day, I could put them in a coherent and inspirational sentence or two like Steve did.   Our school term has just begun and I am swimming in Admin tasks to make all the learning possible. !

Teachers

This week’s #YourEduStory prompt is “How are you, or is your approach, different than your favourite teacher?”.  I admit I struggled with this one and was interested to read that many others did too.  It has however made people think about the qualities of their favourite teacher, so I think I will stay with that idea and perhaps the differences will stand out.

My favourite teachers were people who:

  • were not afraid to show their personal side. They connected on a personal level – made an effort to know their students well.  They acknowledged the individuals in their class and acted accordingly.
  • were knowledgeable but not ‘know-it-alls’.  They had sufficient skills and knowledge to guide and direct but not lecture.
  • were just.  This was a vital trait as there were many who were not and that stuck out as my most negative feeling about schooling.  Teachers who punished a whole class for the actions of one or two made me angry and upset and unfortunately it was a common method. Perhaps I am showing my age on this point.

I could not say it better than Steve, who highlights relationships:

When I think back to those moments in my life where a teacher had an impact, it is never really an ‘aha’ moment that pops up but a hand held out just at the right time. I believe myself to be a teacher who does the same. Teaching is not about content but about taking the journey with young people and building rich relationships.

and Andrew who explains how each of us are the result of combining our experiences

I stole and adapted elements from each into my own “teacher persona” – that conglomeration of influences that make us all who we are in the classroom…….And from all of them, I learned the importance of creating a family in the classroom: how difficult that is, and how magical it is when it happens.

I hope I am not too different from my favourite teachers.  I know I have opportunities that they did not have but in the end the crux as Steve said is about relationships and that has not changed.

My personal issue with a job that does not give me much time face to face with students or the teachers that I work with is how to ensure the relationships are strong.

 

 

How will you make the world a better place?

#YourEduStory Week 2

How will you make the world a better place?

My first reaction is the pragmatic response – I can’t change the world.  Then of course I keep thinking and know that I can change a small corner of it even if it comes down just changing me.

I was lucky enough to hear Annie Parker speak about Entrepreneurial tips last year and one point she made was to celebrate small wins – don’t wait to you have changed the world, but accept and be grateful for minor successes.

Today I received a gratifiying reply to a comment I left on an ex-student’s blog.  He has just left our school and during the break between primary school and high school took the effort to transfer his old blog contents to a new place (required by our system) .  Jonathan was a keen blogger and in Years 5 & 6 showed a flair for writing posts that helped others understand some of the technical elements of technology we were using at school.  He was self motivated, encouraging and showed flair.

I am happy a celebrate the small success here. At least this student and perhaps a few others have been introduced to an activity that they see value in, a place where they can  contribute and share.  Who knows what will happen – I too look forward to what Jonathan will write as he gets older.

Capture

So I have not changed the world, just a little corner of it and I did not do that on my own either. The other teachers who work with our students are all part of the puzzle.  All too often teachers do not see the immediate results of our interactions with students but as Teresa wrote “I teach” and therefore I change the world in a number of ways, allbeit sometimes small, nevertheless good.

YourEduStory

This post is part of the Blogging Challenge #Your EduStory and here are two other responses to the same topic for other perspectives – Enjoy!

Aaron Davis and Shawn White

 

Connecting the Dots

In an attempt to increase the regularity of my writing I have signed up for a challenge : YourEdustory.  I am notoriously bad at completing things like this but, as with all resolutions we start off with great intentions and see how it goes.   The challenge is to post each week and topics are provided if you require inspiration.  Similar to the Student Blogging challenge, this also comes with the added benefit that participants are encouraged to visit each others’ blogs.  I have already enjoyed browsing a new set of blogs and in particular liked the analogy formed by Bjorn Paige in Baseline.

YourEduStory

Week 1 – What is your “one word” that will inspire you in your classroom or school in 2015?

I am off on a tangent already but nevertheless inspired to consider how I will attempt to connect all the ideas, projects, demands and dreams in my head and on my working agenda into a realistic and achievable workload for 2015. Reflecting on 2014 has me regretting so many missed opportunities, moments I wish I could have had more impact as well as celebrating some rewarding successes.

Every day we all make decisions about what we prioritise or how we can work smarter to achieve goals – working in a number of roles, I struggle with working out how to make an impact in a very short timespan in each situation – what is the best way to use my time? Where should I set my priorities?

So I don’t have a word, but more a challenge – How to connect the dots? The dots are the possibilities.  Some converge, others get lost in the crowd, hopefully more will be achieved!

2014 in review

Hawaii reflections

If you write a blog, you have a great record of your thinking: the things that have inspired you, the ideas you have puzzled over, the events you have attended, even the challenges you have faced. I just browsed through my posts from 2014 and although not as numerous as previous years, they tell a story. I seem to have been a bit of professional learning junkie – attended many Teachmeets as well as a couple of formal conferences.

One of my most visited blog posts was You have a class Blog – Now What?   I have had the pleasure of working with many teachers helping them with the setting up class blogs and it started to get frustrating that their impact was not as great as I think they might be.  I now think that a teacher needs to understand and actively seek the benefits of being a Connected Educator, before or at the very least whilst setting up a blog.   So many teachers have said to me that they don’t see the point, no-one reads it and the effort does not translate into any added value for them or their students.   The exceptions are those who are creating a network alongside their blogging activities.   Whether they be actively engaging  their parent community or reaching beyond the school to other classes, they are making a difference and are feeling encouraged to continue.

The concept of collaboration is understood by teachers but when it involves actively pursuing on-line networks, many are yet to take the plunge or even understand the pathway.  This is an area I would like to focus my work on in the future.  My connections have enriched my career in so many ways that I cannot imagine life without them.  I revel in the opportunity to watch a Twitter feed/ Google+ Community, chat at a conference or Teachmeet etc and pick up news or ideas or to ask a question or contribute an answer.    Of course, it remains paramount that any of this revolves around relationships.   George Couros wrote recently:

If you are a school that does not focus on building relationships, you are on a faster road to irrelevance than one that doesn’t use technology.  

 In a world where information is easy to access and I can always find better content online than I can in school, the refocus on relationships is more crucial now than ever. Embrace technology; it will provide people opportunities that we could have dreamed of when we were kids.  But just remember that people will always be the most important part of the education system.

In conducting a bit of a mental audit on the ways I have seen technology used in my school, I am comfortable that our focus has been on the relationships.  At the end of any shared Google document, Tweet, Blog post or Skype call, was a person or a group of people we were actively engaging with.  We had clear purpose in our communication – whether it be collaborating on a task, informing parents, seeking information from experts, providing an audience for our young writers.   Technology was the enabler for the building and strengthening of the relationships.

George is right “people will always be the most important part” and I would like to thank a small band of my ‘people’ who nominated me for an award this year – I humbly accept it as I said to the teachers I work with I take pride if I have been in any way influential in all the wonderful things they are doing with our students.   I draw energy from my association with members of my PLN both at school and beyond and look forward to sharing many more stories in 2015.  Now it is time to go to the beach for a bit of rejuvenation!

Geography Walk meets TwitterTour

How often have you found a bug in the park and wondered what it is? Would you like to have the services of an entomologist at your immediate service?  Have you wondered what the street you are walking along looked like 40 years ago?  Your answers can be at your fingertips 

Many teachers can relate to taking students on a neighbourhood walk.  Commonly they are trying to get students to notice things either from a scientific, geographic, civics or historical viewpoint.    Often we have used cameras or sketchbooks to record our observations. Today, I watched from a distance whilst a group of Year 3/4 students embarked on such a walk but they had an added value component planned.  Prior to the day, their teacher contacted Museum Victoria Education staff, responding to their #twittertour of Melbourne idea.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.00.22 pm

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.01.20 pm

What followed is detailed in the Storify below, but what I believe, is that the teachers have modelled a new way of learning to our students.  We have shown how we can seek information in a number of ways, that there are a number of sources of information and technology can enhance that in so many ways.  By making their learning and their questions visible they were challenged as well as informed to a far greater extent than a simple walk in the park may do.    Read the Storify to get the feeling of the interactions.  At their young age, they cannot use Twitter or most social media tools on their own but they are being modelled the concept of being connected learners. They have seen their teachers reach out to experts and receive feedback. They were involved in the conversations to create the questions and responded to the answers.  Wonderful modelling in my opinion. 

Thanks to Museum Victoria Education Team and congratulations to Michelle for seeing an opportunity and running with it!





Google Apps for Education

I have some renewed enthusiasm to curate useful resources for Google Tools in the classroom since the recent introduction of Chromebooks at my school.  So I have updated the Google site I began a while ago.    It is an area that is hard to keep up to date but  I find the process of collecting and organising the resources worthwhile as it makes me evaluate them and sort them and the fact that many resources are in the one place certainly helps me in my work.

With so many tools at our fingertips, I am wondering where to start. Our students have already got their heads around Google Drive but as with all things there are many opportunities to learn.   I think I will ensure that they are introduced to the flexibility of Chrome as some immediate efficiency measures can be very worthwhile and quite engaging as well.

https://sites.google.com/site/whygafe/home Google Apps umbrella