Tag Archives: Learning

Giddy Enthusiasm

Sometimes things are happening in your class that keep you excited at all hours of the day. You see kids fully engaged during class time, and BIG AND- they are participating in an ongoing month long project outside of class as well. You watch as pieces of this project come trickling in at all ours of the night, on weekends, during other classes. You know you are not meddling and teaching too much; you can feel your scaffold strengthening as the students produce content that exceeds what you thought they were capable of.

I am engulfed in such a unit! It is wonderful. It has little to do with tech really, but the tech knowledge, skills and tools we have in place are making everything run smoothly. When people ask me how I use technology in my classroom, I am always a bit stumped. I use it the same way I do in my everyday life- to gather, create, share, capture life around me with a community of people.

In grades six, seven and ten we are in the middle of a viewing text unit. Grade six is watching How To Train Your Dragon, grade seven is watching E.T. and grade ten is watching The Wall. We began by discussing the idea of reading a film.  After deconstructing each respective film, we looked at various types of shots. Last week we moved onto looking at scenes as shots and students have begun to create their own 8-12 minute films.

It was at this point when I realized that we needed a quick detour into photography. I wanted the kids to realize the similarities between basic photography concepts and film making. After a quick lesson on how to take Great Shots, we began our Daily Shoot! This experience is what has me so excited. Over the weekend I was in Hong Kong for a conference, but I was thrilled to see at least 80% of my students participating in the exercise. They would go to this page, find the prompt, take their pic and post (with tags and titles) to their appropriate page.

Some highlights:

I am hoping that they will see that shots like these will make great openings to their video scenes. We have already discussed music and camera movement to heighten suspense and creating mood.

The Posterous gallery has been great as it teaches them how to sort and tag their pics, and it allows everyone to see what everyone else is doing.

Giddy is the best word to describe how I feel about this unit so far. Giddy and proud and excited and …..well seems like there are many words. But, what does the tech look like? How can I teach other teachers to do this? Not sure. We are using iMovie, Keynote, Posterous, cameras, blogs. We are filming, shootings, tagging, writing, drawing. It is hard to know where the tech starts or stops. It is hard to know if this is Art, English, or Film. We are simply caught up in a storm of creating. Unaware of where we will end up, we use whatever tools we need, we learn skills as they become necessary and hopefully we will have some pretty amazing films to share, but if not…if the films are only mediocre, we already know we have learned so much. And that is all that really counts.


When I Say Jump…

If you do not speak or read techaneese feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph.

Will we find a plug-in that allows students the ability to customize their headers, but not have the ability to change the theme all together? Will we be able to figure out how to aggregate specific tags to post to several blogs? Can we subscribe to specific tags or categories? So teachers can subscribe to student blogs based on tags related to their classes not whole blogs? Will we get all the student Gmail accounts up and running by the end of next week? Will the Google Calendars work seamlessly like we planned. Will our server be able to handle the blogs next week? Will we find all the right plug-ins to make for an easy blogging experience? Will teachers understand what we are trying to do? Appreciate it? Enjoy it?

I am nervous. I am stressed. I am terrified. Two days into my new role at school, and I am realizing that things are different already. When you are a classroom teacher, what you do everyday really only affects you and your students, maybe your department, but as a tech facilitator suddenly your ideas, however brilliant they may have seemed at first, take on a much heavier feel. It becomes suddenly clear that they could crash and burn quite easily. It feels like everyone is looking to you for answers. Answers you may have uncovered minutes before. The pressure is already palpable for me. After two days. There are no students on campus and nothing has even been rolled out. Wow. I need to breathe and regroup.

A little context. I am only teaching three English classes this year and filling the rest of of my timetable as a tech coach (We are still writing the job description and title. I have already had a few people come ask me how to add folders in Mail or how to print. We hope to move away from the day-to-day help desk stuff and start looking at deeper pedagogical conversations that lead to  shifts in teaching and learning. Will keep you posted.) The big initiative right off the bat for us this year is that we are moving away from a confined VLE and moving toward a system that is made up of K-12 WP blogs hosted on our sever, for teachers, students, and admin. We hope these blogs will act as portfolios as well as communication tools, discussion forums and more. We are building the system from scratch and as I mentioned before it is scary. We are also moving toward a Google Campus for access to Google Docs for back of the house curriculum creation and storage, as well as use of Calendars, Reader and Sites for a variety of things: student work, RSS, and document navigation among other things. It is scary.

Now that you have read the context, let’s spend a few lines on reflection:

The best part about learning is the not knowing. The guessing. The exploration. The trial and error. The failure. But suddenly when you are in front of a group of teachers who are looking to you to know what you are doing, learning feels like a waste of time. They need you to know this stuff. You have to know to teach right? What do you mean you don’t know how to do that? Then why are you in charge of teaching me?

What is lost is the sense that learning begins with not knowing. The one idea I  hope to impart on people this year is that technology is not always a smooth path that will make their lives easier. That notion is a myth. It is ironic that we look to technology to make our lives easier, only to spend so much time and energy agonizing about how much of our time it saps. How many times have we watched some poor sap awkwardly stare about room as the very tool he/she was touting as life changing didn’t work? How many times have we been in that spot, “No I swear Google Docs will make this easier.” No one can log in. Tables act weird. Back to the drawing board. So why do we do it? Why do we spend so much time talking about technology and what it can or cannot do? Why have I chosen to try and convince grown professionals that learning about it will make them better teachers? That it will help their learning.

For the last two nights, I have laid awake in bed worrying. Worrying about some of the things I mentioned in the first paragraph, but when I wasn’t stressed about Themes and RSS on WP, I was thinking about why we choose to focus on technology when it isn’t always as easy as advertised. This is the analogy I came up with in my tired, sleep deprived brain:

We sell technology as a sprint. It is fast. Efficient. Breathtaking. It makes everything it touches fast, efficient, and breathtaking…but as we all know this is seldom the case. It is often frozen, loading, or crashing. It often feels more like a sprinter who can barely get out of the blocks, let alone finish a race. For me technology is more like a hurdle race. Or maybe a marathon. Or maybe a marathon with hurdles. And motes. With crocodiles. And hot lava. You get the point. Technology is not about ease; it is about obstacles. It is about problems. And understanding that when you have problems you often have solutions. The beauty of technology is overcoming obstacles. Critical thinking. Learning. Clearing hurdles. One after another. One step after the next.

image by studiocurve

I see value in technology for students and teachers because it teachers them, in a perfect world where they are not “trained” or spoon fed tutorials, how to identity problems and solve them. This is what I hope to get across to the teachers with which I work.  Technology will break. It will fail. It is not a sprint. Maybe it won’t make your life easier, but damn it, you will learn some things about yourself. Your ability to be patient. To handle stress. To think critically under pressure. You will learn how to clear the hurdles with poise and precision, so that when it is time to sprint you will be all the more able.

Why may you ask, would any teacher in their right mind, with all their teacherly responsibilities, want to enter a marathon with hurdles and lava? Why do we ask our students to it? Why do we ask them to put themselves in situations that force them to learn?

See you in the comments…

(note: Sometimes technology can be a sprint. Sometimes it can be an amazing flight, but tonight I was mired in stress and I needed this. More posts coming soon, I am sure.)


Open Canvas

Hello Ds106ers and the rest of ya too! It has been a while since my Bava Light has been burning at full capacity, but never mind all that- I am here to say that I am back! At least I hope so, I got lost a bit in the shuffle of DS106 Radio and the previous audio assignments, no excuses, just lost the itch. I guess this is normal in a 15 week MOOC course. One that I am in no way obliged to take, and one which I am receiving no “credit” except for the satisfaction of pushing myself and making some art! Enough looking backwards,  let’s see where we are now. First of course there is the latest assignment Telling Stories in The Web:

you will be intervening in the code and design of a website of your choice to tell a story. You are not to photoshop the design of the site (if you can), but rather intervene in the actual html and CSS of the site—though you can photoshop particular images on the site.

The great aspiration from Martha:

  • I want students to have to grapple with the code. It’s not that I expect them all to become expert coders or even to understand everything they encounter, but I do want them to develop a basic understanding and healthy respect for what goes on under the hood of a Web page.
  • I want them to develop an understanding of the architecture of a page: how do HTML and CSS work together? How is content separated from design?
  • I want them to think about how a story can be told in a single page. Web pages are complex information spaces. There are often a myriad of opportunities on a page to let a story unfold: menus, titles, texts of articles, texts of links. What do these elements represent rhetorically and how can we use them to construct a single-page narrative?
  • I want them to think about the choices we’re making as we tell our story. The Web provides us with a truly unlimited platform of spaces to co-opt for narrative. As we choose the site to build upon or through, I want to talk about what that choice represents. And as we enact the story in that space, I want to keep interrogating those choices.

Finally the great tutorial that made it all so easy. Wow! Crazy huh? I know. If I am to understand this right, I can take any website, play under the hood, and change the entire look, feel, and message by manipulating the code? Sounds like magic. Like subversive-web-culture jamming. Sounds like Bansky on HTML. Sounds like fun. What’s that Obama?

Is that really Sarah Palin?

A new movie about Glenn Beck? Don’t believe me? See the site for yourself here.

Pretty intense I know. The more I played, the more my mind spun. I had a very hard time forcing my mind to settle on one major narrative. I could could not create  lasting take, so I played with a few short poems. I dabbled. I tweaked. I played. I think I began to learn and understand the lesson Martha intended, as there were times when I wanted to change an image but it was written in a script or in Flash or in some other language I do not speak. (Yet!) I did however began to see the web in a much different light. It is much more malleable and fluid that I had thought. It can be so easily manipulated to make one idea seem like another. Our images, our words, everything on the web is a few code edits away from being something completely different. What does this mean in an age where the Internet holds so much of our knowledge, or ideas, our identities? What does it mean that we have created a world, a vault, a mirror of ourselves that can be warped and reshaped by any member? What do words like Truth, Real, Authentic mean in this world? How do we learn in a world where nothing can be trusted, even with our own eyes? How can we influence others? How are we manipulated? What values must we understand, create, or share in a world where we share a space which we can all alter and change?

Beyond these questions and the silliness of the sort of political satire I shared above, there are a myriad of educational implications for students.  They must understand the all too easy deception that can occur on the web. More importantly they can (should?) begin to understand how to manipulate the web to tell their own stories as well, which I think was the point of this assignment. No matter which side of the screen a student is on- we should be made aware of how the experiences of web are created.

I find it hilarious that we so often warn students not to trust Wikipedia, because anyone can edit the pages. Nevermind that this crowdsourced space is most likely the most democratic form of knowledge creation we have ever known, but now anyone can easily fiddle with a little code and recreate a mirage or a smoke screen to create an alternative reality. A different story. Nothing on the web is safe or static from our imaginations. Read the fine print carefully:

What implications does this have on the idea of teaching kids about digital identity? Even if they groom and tend their online brand to perfection, someone can easily alter it as easily as they can spray paint a wall.

I apologize if this post is all over the place, but I have been like this all week. I feel like the very structure of the web has been removed and now I see it as a wide open canvas on which I can play. Not only can I create original content and carve out legitimate specs online for my own expression, but now I can also alter and manipulate the work of others. Like all post-modern, subversive, culture jamming street art, with great power comes great responsibility. Issues like ownership and copyright and creative commons and common decency are all muddled together into a great big ball of gray area. Perhaps uncle Walt has something to say:

There is also a post in here somewhere about how much fun it was to learn something brand new and play with my limitations. A post about how excited I was to follow the tutorial for awhile, only to take detours and see where I could go on my own. There is a post in here about the joy of discovery and that moment, when you realize you know how to do something you didn; before and suddenly a small piece of the world makes that much more sense. But I am too tired to write that post tonight, hopefully you can stitch together the pieces yourself from what is here.

Join me in the comments-What do you think about all this? This conversation could be lots of fun.


A Learner On My Hands

We’ve been doing a lot of work with images, media and language in our classroom lately, and I while really should be writing up those projects and getting my workshop (which will be on language acquisition and digital tools) for the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong ready, I have chosen to quickly jot down one of those, “this is why we teach moments.”

We were out in Peace Park, a stunning area on our campus, taking photos today. By we, I mean my 7th grade ESL class and me. They are working on a short image based slideshow which highlights verbs. More on that in coming posts. For now, all you need to know is that they will be asked to take several pictures of their everyday habits (we are studying present tense verbs) of things they do on any given day. But rather than have them take a series of thoughtless, average, and poorly lit snapshots, I took a lesson to talk about what makes a photograph interesting. We spoke of light and angles and subjects and basically concluded that to take a nice shot, we simply need to look closely, pay attention, and tell a story with our photos. Much like poetry I reminded them, but instead of words we use images. (Again this flip-flopping is the gist of my session: Language is about expression and the vocabulary of digital media is beyond words.)

After our brief chat on how to take a decent photo verses taking a million snapshots, we headed outside. I watched them crouch down under tables, get up close to flowers, walk around and really look around them. I gave them bits of advice, but tried to stay out of their way. I came across one girl who was taking an extremely close-up shot of a flower. I quickly showed told her about and showed her the Macro setting on her camera and explained that should help with the focus.

As I was walking away, she started to jump up and down and shouted something enthusiastically in Bahasa. What? What is it? I asked. She quickly became shy and said nothing. I asked again, pleading to know. One of her friends told me that she had said, “I am really starting to love photography!”

That was it! That is why I teach, because from that excitement we will make the connection to poetry and language and a love of learning. I am no longer dealing with a student; I have a learner on my hands, and there is very little you cannot do with one of those!


Keep The Flow Going

My mind is on fire. I am in the flow. I can’t stop thinking. My body tingles with learning. I am awash in artistic and intellectual juices. A bit much? Sure, but I am loving this feeling. I am drunk with the excitement generated by my mind and its connection to so many things, ideas, places, and people. Let me quickly walk you through my morning. Warning there will be many links. Do not be lazy, take a second and at least open them and skim around.

I woke up around 5:45 am as I do everyday and took a quick inventory of my online life. Checked some Tweet, read some emails, and followed up on comments and links to my posts and of course checked to see if anything exciting is happening on Facebook. (Not really by the way. Why is Facebook always the dullest part of my online life? Facebook friends, one of you, if you are here by some fluke leave a comment, join the conversation. Jump in please I beg of you!)

I was so excited to see a few Tweets and links to this post by Brian Lamb, in which he and a few other members of #ds106 had taken the poem I had written using Gardner Campbell’s talk and turned it into a song. Read the comment thread for my thoughts on that.

I then moved on to a few blog posts by Alan Levine and D’Arcy Norman that had me in a fog of thought for most of the day. Again follow the comment threads for my attempts to articulate my ideas.

Finally, once in school, I got into a nice little discussion about the usefulness of PowerPoint as a tool, the philosophical differences between telling stories and sharing information, and the general state of the perpetuated stench of habitual teaching.

And that’s all before lunch. I have already taught a class, pushed into another, and tried to wrestle about ten different  ideas into this post. It is exhausting, but also very exciting. I would give my left foot if I could ever generate this kind of enthusiasm about learning with my students!

That’s it huh? The big question: How do we get learners excited about learning? Rather than pontificate or pull up research, let me just share some stories about how and why I am so excited today:

Sorry about the audio. Apparently photobooth not only doesn’t play nice with Blogger, but Youtube as well. Lesson learned.

As I was saying, I am also excited by the fact that I am actively involved in a differentiated environment. And by being so, I am able to understand better what it feels like for my students….

Sorry about the audio. Apparently photobooth not only doesn’t play nice with Blogger, but Youtube as well. Lesson learned.

Whoo! I think I got most of it out. I needed to jettison that intellectual weight; I feel much better. So what do you think about anything I said. Jump in, let’s keep the flow going.