“Listen to the learners”

Once again Twitter has introduced me to a wonderful experience. I was made aware of the short video Stephen Heppell’s Empowering Young Learners by a tweet from @flourishingkids (Joan Young)
It was an interesting 20 minutes where the camera followed Stephen through London whilst he mused about educational issues. Stephen has big picture ideas about education and how it should change to reflect the 21st century learner. Unfortunately, we cannot all effect the big picture in major ways so we need to make our own little actions.

Empowering Young Learners from New Learning Institute on Vimeo.

“ Listen to the learner” was the quote I wrote down and I have decided to plan my next terms unit with a group of 8 – 10 year olds on this premise. I have the pleasure of spending an hour a fortnight with 2 groups of Year 3/4 children and their teachers.    I usually introduce them to sites, software or tools that will be useful within their current unit of study – Inquiry learning, maths or literacy.

In this capacity, they have already seen (amongst others)

  • Wordle & Tagxedo
  • Wallwisher
  • Glogster
  • Moviemaker & more recently iMovie
  • GarageBand for Podcasting
  • Pivot (Stick Figure animator)
  • ToonDoo (Comic Strip Creator)
  • Inspiration

This term, I am going to ‘Listen to the learners’ and let them decide the subject matter and method for their activity. I will open it up to them.
I will use a Blog as a communication tool – we have set up Student Blogs with KidBlog and the children will reflect on their process on their blogs. In many cases, they will also publish their results on the blog. I am thinking that this will be useful as I don’t physically see the children often throughout the week and I can regularly check up on their progress between lessons.
I am aware this is not a novel concept, Passion projects have existed for some time, but I am curious to see how the presentation and creative tools alter the results.

Bling for your blog …..

Custom Glitter Text

So NOT important – but I saw one of these on another blog. There is a Lava lamp on the lower right too ! I fear that students might like this a bit too much and not focus on the writing – remember when they all discovered Word Art ? Hours on fancy headings and one sentence underneath.

Still playing and found Linoit – like Wallwisher – I tried embedding it and wold be interested if readers can add a sticky note from within the blog Click on a coloured sticky note and see what happens (please) Oh – it seems you have to mouse over the Title strip and then the sticky notes drop down.

Reflecting on Personal Learning Networks

“The effectiveness of integrating ICT pedagogies depends on high levels of interactivity amongst and between students and teachers, and between students and the technologies they use.”  Learning in an online world

I would like to add another dimension to this – the effectiveness also requires a level of interactivity between the teacher and other teachers as well, and I believe that this needs to be a broad level of interactivity, beyond the scope the school and even the direct school network. 

Many schools are realising the potential of involving their students in Global projects, having their students actively involved in communicating beyond the classroom walls – I believe (and others have already stated) that this will have most impact, when teachers themselves have modelled and experienced this by their own involvement with teachers/educators beyond their classrooms and schools.

The rise of Web 2.0 has brought to light how good teachers are at collaboration – I believe we are one of the best professional groups at taking up with Web 2.0 technologies and using them to our advantage.    There is a plethora of educational collaborative spaces available and an enormous array of educators freely giving of their expertise and time to others. 

The scope for this involvement is wide – simple Twitter followings, RSS feeds to relevant Blogs, Wikis and Nings, subscriptions to podcasts, membership to mailing lists are just some of the way we can see what is going on in the outside world.   Many teachers are using them with students and increasingly teachers are using them to broaden their own experiences.

A powerful Personal Learning Network (PLN) does not have to be large but does need to create contacts with like minded, similar interested people.   One thing I have noticed about schools, is that despite attendance at professional development days etc, many teachers stay quite insulated within the particular school in which they teach.    Wonderful things happen within schools, but they are limited by the experience of those in the group.   

We need to choose the level of involvement that we can manage – that will ensure a feed of new ideas without information overload.  I feel that it is something that evolves.  You follow a person on Twitter, watch for a while and judge if their contribution to your learning is valuable. You elect to continue to follow or not.  You subscribe to a podcast and listen to only the relevant editions.  You skim read a Google reader account for relevant blog entries.   You soon develop a feeling of where the ‘good stuff’ is coming from and who you want to maintain a connection with.  That ‘good stuff’ is entirely subjective – no two PLN’s will be the same.

Then, the element of reciprocity comes into place.  When do we stop being a total consumer of other people’s ideas and thoughts and start to feel confident to contribute content as well?  I believe it was Jenny Luca who used the statistics that 1% of people contribute new content, 9% add to other’s ideas and 90% consume only.  Teachers on the whole seem to be quite shy about their achievements – we are not accustomed to professional flattery or comments.  Rarely do we have the opportunity to give other teachers feedback on their teaching – although some practices involving Evidence protocols are currently encouraging this.

The ability to publish to a potential world wide audience requires a certain confidence that takes a while to develop.  How do we know when we have something worthwhile to contribute if we don’t take the risk?  I regularly see examples of wonderful teaching/learning moments – I wonder – should those teachers be sharing those successes with others?  How would sharing it help that teacher or those who read it? Where does this all fit in to the busy life of a classroom or specialist teacher?  How important is this reflective practice for the teacher themselves as well as the audience lucky enough to share it ?

So I think I see the benefit of a PLN is at least twofold – a wonderful source of inspiration and professional development as well as an opportunity to step out and risk that we might have something positive to contribute as well.

Week 1 – 3 Summary

I feel that I need to sort out the past few weeks activities in my head.  The advantage of doing this project with other people from the same school is that we are asking each other questions – some questions do not yet have answers but that is ok.

Summary below

Blogging – intended as a personal reflection journal space – some interaction but only by comments from readers.  Comments on other people’s blogs connect you to them.  I learnt a lot about these from Jenny Luca’s presentation.   She talks about being careful to have a purpose as well as the benefits of the reading AND writing process.   initially I found edublogs tricky but I am getting hang of it now – even worked out how to put in widgets etc.

Ning – collaborative work space for PLN attendees – share ideas, chat, link people with similar interests

Twitter – micro-blogging – great  for capturing links to other places/blogs/sites etc.  Needs lots of filtering to get a good batch of people to follow

Navigating & Customising

I find this blog very hard to find may way around – have mastered adding text and pic, but all the sidebar stuff is tricky.  It appears the free  version has limitations if you want to use the cute stuff

PS – I have worked it out !! took a while

PPS    Just read that free edublog accounts have had embedded widgets like maps etc disabled – apparently they were a security risk for spam?!