Tag Archives: Changing Teachers

Everything Means A Lot To Me

This project grew organically from a quick exchange of ideas on Twitter with Paula, John and Ari, and now it may have become the cornerstone of my Learning 2.0 presentation on digital storytelling. I am not only excited about the process to generate this story, but I am also thrilled by the possibility of what something like this might look like in my classroom.

Started like this:

Ari was excited about using #visualwritingprompts. He began to experiment with the form on a blog for his Freshman Comp students. I mentioned that he should take a look at what John has been doing on his blog for #visualwritingprompts. We began to discuss the possibility of students finding their own photos, adding texts and creating their own prompts. Perhaps, one student could find the photo, while another added the prompt and a third student did the actual writing. We then thought maybe a fourth student could Digitize the text. (Create a digital story)

We quickly divided up the roles:

Paula suggested a few photos she had taken herself. John chose this one:

He added the prompt:

To which Ari added the text:

Finally, I digitized it:

I used the Cartoonatic app for my phone to record the footage and added simple voice over of  Ari’s text and layered it with Creative Commons music–Feeling Dark (Behind The Mask) by 7OOP3D which I found on CC Mixter.

What’s next:

Paula and I will be starting a new unit soon about societal ideas of what it means to be normal, and we will use this process to help students visualize and critically analyze  aid theme. Here are some skills that I think this a project fosters:

  • Metaphorical thinking
  • Ability to fluctuate between text and imagery
  • Ability to create mood based on text, imagery and digital storytelling
  • Ability to build ideas and construct meaning based on ideas of peers

I am sure there are more. But I will ask you to help ask and answer these questions:

What does this all mean? How does this sort of collaborative interplay between photography, text and digital story telling help student writing? I am not sure, and honestly I have had a crazy day, so I will leave it to you to extrapolate on this project in the comments below.

Final thought– 

Once the process has been completed, perhaps the participants can switch roles. So someone else adds a new prompt to the same picture, or another member writes the text, and yet another person creates a new digi-story?

What do you think Paula, John and Ari? Want to switch this up? Who is doing what? That means you too reader. Take the photo, change the prompt, write a text based on the existing one, make a different digi-story–join the party.


We are open. We reach out. We trust.

I just had one of those lessons. You know the kind– the ones that leave you buzzing, because it was all so organic, authentic, and the kids leave giving you hi-fives. The best part about it, was that it was a last minute audible. Let me give you some context before I continue:

I am all but done for this term. I have enough scores and assessments to determine student grades; I have written my comments and all the bureaucracy of learning has been dutifully accomplished. I have, however, challenged my students to do one last unit–one that will not be assessed, graded, marked, evaluated…whatever you want to call it. It won’t count. There is no test. We are doing cuz it is fun, we are learners and that is what we do.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, the kids are on board. They are working just as hard and we are having some very low-pressure fun at the end of the year.

  • Grade 10’s are watching and reading Romeo & Juliet and planning a 10 minute live action highlight role-play of the play.
  • Grade 7’s read Freak the Mighty and are creating an anti-bullying campaign. Short slips, posters etc…
  • Grade 6’s are preparing short role-plays about life in middle school to prepare the 5th graders.

This post is about the grade 6 class. They have been working in groups to find out what the grade 5’s want to know We have an open Google Doc where the grade 5’s have asked questions and the grade 6’s have collaboratively answered them. We had a day where they met and chatted about their ideas, my kids took notes and began planning their skits.

These are Language B students, so we have some shy low-level English speakers. Last week, I noticed that they are getting bogged down in script writing and planning. I want them to focus more on different ways they can convey ideas and information through drama and movement. I started experimenting with some improv activities, that to be honest were uninspired and fell flat. I was going to google more improv activities, when I thought I would ask Twitter first. Here is where the magic usually begins…

Katie Hellerman sent me a DM:

Which as you will see led to her teaching an improv lesson to my class from Chicago at 10:00pm her time. We quickly cleared the classroom, I explained to my students what was happening, they took it in stride. We chatted a bit with Katie and she took over. I stood back and let someone who knows more about acting take over and deliver my content. At first the kids were shy and awkward, but after a warm up and a few activities, they were loving it.

One activity Katie had them do, was exactly what I was looking for, when I first thought to Google this idea. She asked for a group of four volunteers and had them do a quick impov in one minute. She told them to focus on movement and to react to their fellow actors. Then, they were asked to do the same exact skit in 30secs, then 15 secs, then 7. It was perfect, because it showed the kids that too much time is ripe for awkward silences, while going too fast causes chaos and silliness. A few groups nailed some great improv skits at around 30 seconds. We will definitely use this activity again as we prepare our role-plays.

Take a look at some quick clips I captured while Katie worked with the kids:

So how does this happen? Many teachers new to networked learning will either think that things like this lesson are impossible or super simple. The truth is somewhere in the middle. It takes years of working within a network environment to find people you trust. I have know Katie for sometime now. We share photos on Instagram, follow each other on Twitter and read each other’s blogs. I know through our personal interactions that she is a kindred spirit, a silly and goofy middle school teacher, who would be great  in my classroom. When she tells me she does Improv, I am not surprised, but I know that I can count on her to Skype into my class at 10:00 pm and do a great job. These relationships are what Twitter is about. This trust is why the line between personal and professional is always blurring.

I have Skyped into countless classrooms, sharing my expertise on various topics in the same way. We are moving beyond networks of shared information and data and building communities of trust and sharing. It this is world of open possibilities to which I want to expose my students. Earlier this year when we were studying Afghanistan, my students Skyped with the Afghani blogger, Nassim Fekrat, who I met through a mutual friend on Twitter. I want my students to see that the Internet is not about pure data. It is interactive and through responsible use a wonderful tool for learning–from people, not just websites. . I want them to see that there are people out there who can help them when called upon. We must model this behavior and show them that it is common to interact with people when we need help.

One more quick example, by now most of us have seen Caine’s Arcade. I am so excited that on Monday, we will have the creator of the film, Nirvan, Skyping into my grade 7 class to talk about film making. This group of 7th grades are the same kids who made these amazing films, and wrote poems based on Caine’s Arcade. We hope to speak with Nirvan about telling stories and how to gain leverage through the web to share our work. We hope to get some advice for our Anti-bullying videos. How did this interview come about? I Tweeted Nirvan and asked. He put me in touch with his office, and after weeks of negotiating time (he has been swamped) we agreed on Monday.

For teachers getting started, who ask how do I do something like this? Or for people asking where the tech is in all this? The answer is I don’t know.  We create online spaces. We build online identities. We create content. We build communities. We make friends. We share. We are open. We reach out. We trust. We experiment. We are not afraid to fail.


Crux of My Frustration

It’s a cold, dark, grey day and our normally glistening vibrant school feels a bit like a prison. True, the oppressive weather outside casts a long drab shadow of gloom upon all the buildings. True that tired students and staff are struggling to stay inspired as May begins her long trek up the summit to the end of the year, but it is what is happening inside that reeks of anachronistic, uninspired schooling. We are witness to the type of behavior that should make progressive educators want to jump out their windows. Yes dear reader, it is exam week at our school for Grade 9, 10, and 11.

Rather than watching excited students work toward personal goals and interests, I am watching gangs of anxiety-ridden zombies walk the campus cramming their brains with notes for exams. People on Twitter, reminded me that exams do have real life benefits, and I can see that, but I guess in my dream school exams either don’t exists, and if they do, they should feel very different than what I felt today.

I don’t know enough about the grade 12 IB Exams, so I will not write about that process here. What I do know is that at this moment, my grade 10 students are sitting in rows and taking an English exam in order to prepare them for the DP exams they will soon be taking. An exam, I was in a way forced to give them. I suppose, I could have fought back a bit more and at least asked why I need to give this exam, asked if we could opt put, but I took the path of least resistance. My colleague and I decided to simply turn the assessment we had already planned into our final exam. Students were to write a formal letter to a magazine editor, pretending to be a WWI poet, and explain why their poems should be published. They were to focus on persuading the editor of the value of their work in terms of theme, style and literary devices. Your basic critical analysis and articulation of understanding essay.

As I write this post and chat with people on Twitter, I realize I am not sure where I am going with it. I do not have any concrete ideas, and I do not want to be hyper-critical or rant about something I myself am confused and unsure about. So as always, I am throwing out some half-baked ideas in hopes that people who are more experienced and knowledgeable and have better formed ideas on exams and assessments can help me paint a clearer picture.

The crux of my frustration is the lack of student ownership and engagement that comes from exams and assessment in general. The assessment I described was created by teachers. So whether presented as an exam or as a project, it still lacks authenticity.  I am starting to realize that this lack of student input in most school decisions is what frustrates me about most aspects of school. I am just as guilty as most teachers. I plan units with my peers–complete with guiding questions, assessments, rubrics and more, but seldom do I bring student voices into the process. It is not that I don’t want to, or that I do not know how. I often feel that I am part of a system that doesn’t have time for this sort of student driven curriculum.

I totally understand that as a team, we are working hard to create a working curriculum, and as a new school, sometimes we just need to have a functioning scope and sequence. I am amazed and very proud of the work our English department has done this year.

We have created a 6-12 scope and sequence, basically, from scratch. Our units are diverse, media rich, interesting and show a great diversity of assessments. We have begun to integrate authentic use of technology and have achieved a nice balance of genres and content. We have done our best to identify clear and useful significant concepts, Approaches to Learning, guiding questions and more. In short, our department has done a wonderful job of collaborative planning to create a functioning and engaging curriculum in a just under two years. This is no small feat. It is a first step. I get that. I can appreciate that. I see its value. We have created a functioning curriculum? So now what?

Where are the students in this model? How do we give students more of a say in the planning of  curriculum? How can we empower them to create assessments that make sense to them and showcase their skills and understanding? How can we give them ownership of these units.

This lack of student ownership in planning the curriculum is my biggest frustration with the idea of schooling. I have ideas about how to change my own planning, but when working with a team, how do we make these changes? Do students even want this level of engagement, or do they just want to go to class, be told what to learn and how to learn it, take the exam and be done with it?

These are some random thoughts on a grey Monday during exam week. Any thoughts would be welcome:

  • How do you involve students in the planning process?
  • What are your thoughts on exams?
  • How do exams work at your school?


Those of you who have been following my blog for the last few days, know that there is a pretty healthy/heated conversation going on at the It’s About Acculturation post. The back and forth in the comments section has left me pretty well-spent, but thankfully I have learned some  important lessons about digital citizenship, online communities, writing and most importantly, I have learn a bit about myself. I wish that these ideas were original in some way, they are nothing more than what we tell kids everyday, or that they were better articulated (I toyed with the idea of turning them into Haiku, but Friday afternoon exhaustion vetoed that idea) In the end, I brainstormed a list, in no particular order, of the lessons I feel I have learned after my “review” of #beyondlaptops and the affect my post and the conversation that grew from it, had on others.

  • Our words have power.
  • Our ideas affect others in ways we may not intend or even recognize.
  • We should think about the people in front of our words before, during, and after we write them.
  • Don’t write from frustration when what you write about is entwined with other people.
  • If something feels negative it is.
  • What you feel is explicit may have implicit meaning for others.
  • There is a reason why we teach things like tone, intent, and word choice.
  • Don’t be snarky or smug unless there is a reason for it.
  • Praising something only to follow it with a but, is annoying and not constructive.
  • Half-baked ideas can be misunderstood.
  • Online communities are complex and made up of people with different view points.
  • Passion can burn– sometimes a little time and distance may help objectivity.
  • Don’t take it all so personaly.
  • It is not always an argument to win, but a path to walk together.
  • We are on the same team.
  • Blogging (thinking, writing, communicating) can be exhausting.
  • We are figuring it out, this take time.
  • Being understood takes time and practice.
  • It is hard to say what you mean.
  • If you are going to engage in conversation with Adrienne bring extra water. (Good example of being snarky)

Thanks to everyone who was involved in the conversation. I hope that we are creating spaces where all of our voices matter. A place where we are not intimidated or made to feel vulnerable to the point of silence. I don’t know about you, but it is Friday and I am ready for the weekend.


It’s About Acculturation

Monday morning. Just got back from Yokohama/Tokyo and the Beyond Laptops Conference put on my Kim Cofino and the great people at the Yokohama International School. I have a million things to do, but I know that if I don’t pin this blog post, right now, onto some kind of solid wall in Cyber Space, it will will melt back into the ether with a million other thought and ideas. I need to strike the hammer while…..end cliche.

Conferences are exhilarating. Conferences are exhausting. They are empowering and frustrating. They can make you feel invincible, while somehow soul crushing at the same time. Before I continue, let me state that this post is not a criticism of the conference or Kim. She did an amazing job trying to satisfy a diverse group of people and our needs. She continually reached out for support and ideas before, during and after the conference and was more than flexible through the two day event. I had a great time and I learned so much. Thank you to everyone at YIS and all the participants. But you all now me well enough to know that I have opinions, and since I was not in the mood to elaborate in the feedback survey, I wanted to share my thoughts in the form of this post. I want to end on a positive note so I will start with the griping.

Not sure if you have heard, but technology is not about the tool. It’s not about devices or software. It’s not about numbers or proof. It’s not about, well apparently it’s not about a lot of things. We are all very good at pontificating what it is not about! Yet somehow, even though it is not about the tool, and even though we create smaller, more intensive conferences for people who realize that it is not about the tool, to discuss what it is about…we end up talking about the tool. We talk about BYOD, iPads verse laptops, or PD models based on– yes,  you guessed it, how to use the tool. We are very good about talking about the tool, while saying that technology is not about the tool. Hence the frustration.

My second gripe was data driven. I am an English teacher. I hate numbers. I hate statistics. I hate quantifying the unquantifiable things in life, like poetry, like nature, like learning. After speaking with so many IT directors and school administrators, however, I can understand the need for numbers to justify budgets to school boards hungry for charts and graphs proving that the millions of dollars they spend on computers are amounting to something, but that is not where I want to spend my energy. My problem is that the only thing I hate more than numbers and charts are budgets and money. I got into teaching to inspire kids, to create authentic learning communities and to change the world. I want to go to conferences and talk about these types of things. I will leave the graphs and charts to other people.

These are my gripes and by no ways reflective of the mood or organization of the conference.  Anyone who has ever organized any kind of PD, workshop, or conference know that you can NEVER please everyone. The small-group, hands-on, conversational tone of the conference was refreshing. It felt great to be able to express my viewpoint with so many of the decision makers from the major schools in Asia. It was valuable to be reminded that assessment of a program either for evaluation or justification has value. It was equally important for me to be the voice of a more qualitative look at the role of technology in our schools.

Throughout the conference, I was approached by several people who said they appreciated my frank, open and holistic look at educational technology. I want to spend the rest of this post trying to articulate just what that looks like. If technology is not about the tools, if it is not about data, then what is it about? How do we know it is “working?”

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by superkimbo

We are immersed in a new culture. It is fluid, it is changing, it is evolving, it is breathing and dreaming and waiting for our input, and for the first time the we is all of us, the our is mine and yours. The involvement with, the creation of, the influence from, the participation in this culture is what concerns me. Acculturation is my focus. We are on a frontier. Pressed up against a fast moving edge to places we have never been before as a society. This understanding is what educational technology should be about: What does this culture look like? How does it affect each of us? How do we participate in it. Learn its language? Learn from it? Teach it? What happens to the me in we? What happens to you in the us? Where are we going? How did we get here? What does school look like in this new culture?

You want to see numbers right? How can we measure and quantify participation in a culture that is still forming? How do we know teachers and students are using technology to learn? Let’s start with the Horizon Report:

The NMC Horizon Project charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning, research, creative inquiry, and information management. Launched in 2002, it epitomizes the mission of the NMC to help educators and thought leaders across the world build upon the innovation happening at their institutions by providing them with expert research and analysis.

Much of the work of the NMC Horizon Project takes place in a wiki where international experts across all different educational sectors openly exchange ideas and engage in insightful discourse. In this sense, the NMC Horizon Project represents a new ideal in education: free, open forums that facilitate global collaboration and encourage smarter discovery and dissemination of emerging learning approaches. All NMC Horizon Project reports and papers are published as open content, under a Creative Commons Attribution License, so permission is granted to replicate, copy, distribute, transmit, or adapt the content freely.

Not a bad place to start right? We spend so much time discussing the things that technology is not (a tool) that we never really talk about what it is. There is a nebulous list of 21st century skills that everyone seems to be referencing, but even that term is becoming laden with the heavy baggage of jargon. “Arghh, can we stop saying 21st century skills, it is 2012 already!” is the new “It’s not about the tool.” So what are we doing here? What are we talking about? Back to the Horizon Report. You can read more about the NMC or download the report on their website. I want to distill the key points from A Communique from the Horizon Report Retreat, January 2012. (One of many great resources from the Beyond Laptop reading list.) I have taken the already brief points and carved them down to a few free-standing words:

  • Global  
  • Collaborative
  • Diverse
  • Mobile
  • Access, Efficiency, and Scale
  • Redefining Literacy
  • Information Everywhere
  • Openness
  • Ownership and Privacy
  • Change

This is what our new culture looks like. This is what we need to prepare ourselves, our students, our teachers and parents, for. The question stops being about iPads or PCs, and becomes– Is your school a global, collaborative, diverse, mobile environment with access to people and information? Are you helping to redefine literacy, showing your stakeholders how and when to access information that is everywhere? Are you showing them what to do with it, once they find it, in an open community of learners who understand  the power of ownership and privacy? Most importantly is your institution not only ready for change but seeking it? Are you on the edge of your seat with your nose pressed up against the moving frontier or are you running to catch up, weighed down by stacks of charts and graphs justifying giving students and teachers access to a tool that is so unimportant that it doesn’t even warrant mention? Too simple? Perhaps, but if I could work at a school that understands these concepts and is working toward creating an ethos that values them, I would be a happy camper.

You want to know if your 1:1 program is working? Forget about in-house surveys and data, take a look at the ethos of your school, it’s online presence, its openness and connectivity?  Take a look at the list above, how many of those concepts are you actively promoting and preparing for? Are they part of your vision statement? How much of your professional development is skills-based training and how much of it is cultural understanding? Are these ideas disrupting your school in a good way? Are you embracing them? Are you redesigning existing traditions like reports, timetables and content management to make room for them?

My suggestions for the next Beyond Laptops is that we focus on this new culture. Sorry, Kim. I know this is too little too late, but I had to go through the conference to realize want I needed from it. How do we create schools that are relevant in the age we live in and beyond? How do we teach the Web Kids? How are we all participating in this new culture?