Warning: Here we go again:

Well folks, it’s that time of year again.  My students are starting their twitter accounts and will soon be blogging about their ISU topics.  I’m hoping more of my followers on Twitter will follow them this year.  Last year, more followers unfollowed me than chose to followed my students.  Granted, one might argue that I was producing a lot of noise by forwarding so many of their tweets and links to their posts; however, I was still surprised.

Most of my followers are educators and have proclaimed interests in student digital learning.  I rarely retweet about “the 5 things you need to do for digital learning” or “how to improve student writing through blogging,” or the like.  Instead, once a year, I provide an example of how my students are doing actually doing it; example rather then theory.

So this is a warning, I’m going to get noisy really soon.  I will be tweeting about them and to them quite a bit in about a week.

  • Unfollow me if you wish,
  • ignore me if you can,
  • or show how committed you are to student learning and help show the value of networks and digital media by following 1 or 2 of my students and responding to them from time to time.

Last year, @HeidiSiwak and @mbcampbell360 did an amazing job and really helped turn a school assignment into an authentic experience.  I’m hoping others will join in more actively as well.

There’s a lot of theory out there and a lot of technophiles who talk about “cognitive surplus” and the value of voluntary networks.  I didn’t really see too much last year—as I said, I was surprised.

In a week I will begin posting on twitter my student accounts and blog addresses; I will also post them here.  Please follow 1 or 2 and perhaps respond from time-to-time

Thanks

Patrick

 

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My failure with BYOD

I failed!  I started this year with many assets: I had a lot of experience working with digital technology and students, I had read/thought/learned a lot, I had 10 IPods, 3 Macs, 3 desk tops, and access to 3 ABEL laptops for ½ the day, I also had a nice, personable class of 28 students.  With all these assets, I decided to operate a BYOD classroom with free and open technology to be integrated as needed in all subject areas.  In spite of all these assets, it was with reluctance and regret that I found myself banning the use of all digital technology (at the suggestion of my principal) in our class on December 18. I hope that it’s only temporary, but I’m not sure.  Having struggled for 4 months, I had to concede that it wasn’t enhancing their learner; quite the opposite, it was detracting from their learning.  

How will I ever attend an edcamp again; how will I tell Heidi Siwak, Monica Batac, Stephen Hurley, colleagues at CEA and all the other individuals who helped me reach the point where I thought I could run a BYOD classroom?

The problem is I’m not quite certain why it failed.  I couldn’t get the students to buy in.  Very few of them use the technology to aid their learning.  The primary uses were listening to music, playing flash games, and texting for social reasons.  Using it for academic purposes was a distant 4th.  I couldn’t get them to a point where they could resist the temptation of distraction and focus on their learning tasks/goals. 

Sure, there were some who used it well and seamlessly in their learning.  They’d make a quick search to find something to add to a discussion, or look on Google images to see examples of art to help them learn technique; however, this was not the majority experience.  Whenever my back was turned (or sometimes right in front of me) or my focus on helping individuals, there was always more than a few who took advantage of me, their agreement, and the technology to do as they pleased.

Many have written that we shouldn’t take the technology away; that we wouldn’t take a pencil away if they were misused it.  I guess I disagree- if the pencil became a constant distraction, a danger, if it were constantly abused, I hope that we would take it away and look for other more successful options.

I still think that BYOD classrooms can work, once equity can be guaranteed.  I still see many aspects of the learning process that digital technology can enhance.  As I said, I have failed, not the program.

Many have been writing recently about how failure is necessary to learn.  I haven’t figured that part out in this situation yet….any suggestions?

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Ask questions in class that can be googled, without Google of course!

Often, again among educational circles on the internet, you hear the phrase / command to “stop asking questions whose answer can be found on Google.”  Firstly, I think implicit to that statement is a devaluing of factual knowledge that I have addressed https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/in-defense-of-facts/ where I argue that having factual knowledge is the basis of skills and is vastly different from having the ability to find factual knowledge, and in a corollary form https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/im-not-dead-i-think-ill-go-for-a-walk-said-the-expert/ ; however, a few things remain to be said:

I have often replied to individuals who advocate the above with: “can you give me an example?”  Mostly, the call is ignored but occasionally, an individual replies with a broad statement about asking students for opinions. To this, I’d respond 2 ways.  1) To have an opinion, you require facts; opinions are a response to a fact.  They need a base or are merely a pseudo-opinion that may mimic the syntax of an opinion, but are valueless.  Thus, you must at least start with facts (that can be googled) that are firmly understood in order to have an opinion.  2) Have you met the Internet?  One is tempted to say that the majority of statements on the internet are opinions or pseudo-opinions.  Why can’t a student copy / mimic an opinion as much as a factual statement?  I wait in earnest for someone to give me a question that can’t be googled but can be answered by my students.  The only think left is to create—are they advocating jumping to the top of the beloved Bloom’s Taxonomy each and every time with everybody?

Many skills are also an application of factual knowledge.  Are people suggesting we shouldn’t ask a student to demonstrate a serve in volleyball because we can look up how to do it on the internet?  Don’t paint a picture to demonstrate balance because you can just find one on the internet.  Don’t write a poem about beauty because Shakespeare’s been digitized. Don’t do any math question because you can find the answer on line.  Being critical or creative is an application of knowledge; many fine examples can be found on the internet, but surely there is value for students to do these independently.  Is it different with a content question in science? 

The organising of facts into a coherent answer is an application and a demonstration of mastery.  Like the above art examples, to have a student create an answer to a math or science question requires them to turn their understanding into the complex symbolic language of writing.  Even if it doesn’t involve opinion, it requires many skills, clarifies their thinking / understanding, and improves their understanding and memory for later application.

Implicit to the statement is also the assumption that it is better to seek information from the internet instead of class questions or discussions.  This is troubling for 2 reasons.  It is partial (at least) absurd, and it fails to appreciate the complexities of learning online.

It is partially absurd because it is such a generalization.  It has in its core, either the idea that information on the internet is always inherently better, or that learning this way is always inherently better.  Should students learn to speak from the internet?  Learn the letters and sounds?  Can they learn to turn the computer on from the internet-sure they can, but perhaps it would be less problematic to be told how to by a teacher, even if it can be googled.  I invite you to take a break now and go to Google.  Type in “how do i goo” and see the list of suggestions from instant search feature; don’t the suggestions hurt just a little?  There are many factual based content areas that are better learned from teachers or other interactions; how to share and why is sharing important are easily googled, but not easily learned from this exposure.

Many contents on the internet are hard for students to decode without context from the teacher first. “Is radiation good for you?” is a good question to ask and to discuss in class because a search on the internet will likely reveal to the student that indeed radiation is good for you (try it and pretend you don’t already know).  “Is global warming real?” is another great question to ask in class even though the answer can be googled.  This is because a student without factual knowledge beforehand will almost certainly come to the conclusion that it is fake (try it!).  “Evolution?”-try it! “Which religion is the best?” – try it!  Critical thinking without prior knowledge relies heavily on internal inconsistencies as you cannot spot the omissions without prior knowledge—that’s what makes the internet a dangerous place.

What’s wrong asking questions that can be googled?  To retell and repeat doesn’t just demonstrate understanding, it improves it.

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The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.

Often, in educational circles, I hear the statement/complain that schools and classrooms look the same as they did a 100 years ago with the implication that this is harmful to student learning.  I feel this is a ridiculous statement; it is either untrue or at best, irrelevant.

I think the first way to respond can be found in this article: Dear Hollywood: “School Doesn’t Look Like This”

http://plpnetwork.com/2012/06/15/dear-hollywood-school-doesnt-look-like-this/  In this article, some of the differences between today’s classrooms and those of the past are presented.  Focusing on, teaching style, digital tech integration, desk or table arrangement, etc.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, and anyone familiar with today’s classrooms should be able to expand it.  The troubling implication here is that so many in the education field don’t.  There are so many other differences in content and pedagogy to point out.  I once got a tweet from a digital art teacher who wondered if we were teaching the same as in the past; this from a digital art instructor!  He later revealed he was refering to the fact that we still teach them in batches based on age.  I have addressed that here: https://tuckerteacher.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/organizing-schools-by-ability-instead-of-age-is-harmful-to-children/   Even if you don’t agree with me, we can’t perseverate on this one similarity…it doesn’t alone justify the hyperbolic claim of “sameness.”  Some similarities or consistencies will always be there (eg. schools will be to educate people).

Is your classroom just the walls and desks?  Surely you don’t teach the same as 100 years ago?  How many of us are teaching Latin or Classic civilizations (well grade 5’s are)?  Are your students in single rows?  Are you in a one room school house?  In Ontario, at least, aren’t you using a curriculum radically different from the one used in the 1990’s (which was of course different from the one used 100 years ago)?

In our board, we go to the Heritage School House or Pioneer Village to experience the differences and to learn about how different schooling was 100 years ago.  Sure I recognise the building, sure I recognise the front desk as the teacher’s…but there’s a world of difference between same and similar.  Writing the word “once” is a similar act to writing a novel that starts with “Once upon a time…”   I also recognise cars, houses, churches (even of different traditions and even 1000 of years old), boats, and all manner of other things.  Being recognizable is part of it’s essence or even Platonic quality; chair appearance hasn’t changed to the point that its unrecognizable, but the tech to build one and the ergonomics have certainly improved.  Do we need a new chair design to the point where it isn’t recognisable to prove to overly concrete and limited thinkers that it has changed?  How about schools, just because they don’t look like an airport or submarine doesn’t mean they are the same as 100 years ago.

Being old is not the same as being obsolete or irrelevant.  Anyone over 20 should intuitively agree.  Would the people who suggest that schools are obsolete because of consistent design be willing to make a similar aguement with religious people.  Would they be willing to say, “Your moral code is from the Bronze Age; you need to replace it!” to Christians and Jews.  Should old people be considered obsolete as well?

My students can instantly recognise hotels, planes, cars, hospitals and banks no matter how old they are.  Lots of things look the same but still work differently.  Schools continuously change…often teachers grumble about that.  We have a board plan for continuous improvement (change), and a school plan for continuous improvement (change)…never mind the dozens of changes implemented by Ministry and Board employees each year.  Never mind the changes that I implement each year.  You can go to school online now—can you travel online or go to a hospital online?

To reiterate: old does not mean obsolete.  That is an epistemology that has developed over the last generation or so in the Western World.  It is created largely by the market place; a market place of innovation sure, but also one of planned obsolescence, disposal-ability, and replace-ability.  A market place that sold new things by creating false needs, or by creating the desire for newer products as a value.  We used to repair now we replace and recycle.  We used to value tradition over transience.  Sometimes, things/ideas/building have staying power because they elegantly solve a problem, or because they so successfully create positive utility.

The better something is designed, the longer it lasts.  Perhaps the persistence of the classroom model should be celebrated!  It has lasted a very long time; where’s the evidence that your innovative model (or vague concept) will be better?  Where’s the staying power of your innovation?  Have you analyzed the unforeseen consequences?  Do you have enough evidence to argue it is better and therefore classrooms need to change even more than they already do?

The endurance of our school/class model is evidence of it’s strength, not it’s stagnation.

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students creating their own extra-curricular

There’s a great episode of the Simpsons…sorry, let me start again:  ONE of the great episodes of the Simpsons has Lisa talking to Homer:

Lisa: Dad, do you know that the Chinese have the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity?”

Homer: Yes! Cris-o-tunity!

Well, students are finding themselves in the middle of a crisis/opportunity this school year in Ontario.  With the cancellation or the eminent cancellation of extra-curricular activities, students are faced with a decision: whether to lament their fate and wallow in their misery, or whether they should develop their own extra-curricular without teacher involvement.

The students at my school have decided to go it alone.  They have begun to organise their own activities and organizations.  It’s a little messier, there’s been some mistakes, and there’s been some disagreements; however, they have still succeeded brilliantly.  They have made organic, democratic, and engaging opportunities for themselves and each other. 

Within days of the full realisation that clubs and teams are at least on hold, a couple of students organised a soccer league to operate at recess when there is already supervision.  They have organised the equipment, teams, a tournament structure, they have refs, and it seems to be going quite well.  It takes a little more time for them to organise at the start of each game as they are less use to submitting authority to each other, but once the game starts, it has been flawless. 

Another group tried to re-create the cross country team.  Unfortunately, school insurance issues and a desire to hold before and after school practises seems to have stalled this initiative.  When you’re learning, you won’t always be successful…unless learning is the goal of course.

The final student organization so far is the student council.  The grade eights came together and decided on the form of the council and hosted their own elections. Currently, they are organizing the Halloween dance.  Their arguments were messy but so very real and democratic…its been very interesting to watch…I wonder if, should the labour dispute be resolved and extra-curricular are restored by teachers, whether this group will want a teacher at that point.

They have become leaders…not just filling in the spaces that teachers created for them, but they have made the spaces themselves this time.  They have taken it all on, not just the little bits we typically leave them.

I wish I could say I was proud of them; however, I have had nothing to do with it and this seems patronizing to me….I can say that I am very impressed.

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The Internet might be an extension of the Panopticon—SM might be a prison after all.

 A short little post that might be too much of a downer–I’ll be more positive next time:

I began a mini-unit entitled “the architecture of control.” with my students the other day.  Our introduction centers around Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.  In Michal Foucault’s now famous analysis of it (in “Discipline and Punishment”), he concludes that Bentham made visibility a trap.  By being visible all the time, prisoners had to regulate and normalize their own behaviours because they were constantly able to be scrutinized.  Visibility was a mechanism that made us partners with authorities to limit our own autonomy and homogenize our behaviours.  Conformity becomes normalized; difference is viewed as dissent or with suspicion.

 While this is certainly true in prisons, many hold it to be true in society as well.  One might also extend the argument to include our online culture.  We are being watched while online.  As I type this, departments in my school board are recording my computer use—it is tied to my account and this computer specifically. Companies place cookies on our browsers; they compile our profiles; they data mine our purchases; and increasingly, law enforcement is entering the data mining and surveying game as well.  Everywhere I go, I leave a digital foot print that is permanently attached to my identity.  With this kind of surveillance, I had better conform.  The only chance I have to remain anonymous is to hide in the anonymity of the data stream—to do that is simple—don’t stand out!  Conform!  Monitor my own behaviour!  Regular my autonomy to coincide with society’s expectations!

Our students are being introduced into an environment that might ultimately end up controlling them rather then freeing them.  It might force them to regulate themselves and each other.  It might teach them to view with suspicion those who act differently.  It might add conformity to our world, not diversity.  Even in our most enthusiastic embrace of the Internet and SM, let us at least for a moment consider that we might be wrong—it might not be a perfect world after all.  If we do that, we might end up better preparing our students for some of the possible difficulties they might encounter…

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21st Century Learning? Get over it! It’s Already 2012!

@Stephen_Hurley proposed that the writers at VoicEd.ca write exploring 21st century learning and its meaning.  Here are some of my initial thoughts.  They’re a bit jumbled.  Feel free to deconstruct or ask for clarification:

I think the idea/term, 21st century learning is a fairly empty catch phrase used to sell a variety of programs or to rally for change in the education system.  People may do this with the best intentions, and may affect positive change; others might not be so pure.  To do this, they temporarily define the term and apply it to their ideas/programs.  They are free to do this, because the term/concept is an empty shell, free to be inhabited; it is a cart waiting for a horse and a bandwagon waiting for us to jump on, it seems to be an attempt to throw the baby out with the bath water…

I have been perplexed that the phrase is as persistent and wide spread as it seems to be.  Perhaps it is because the idea is free to be adapted, but I have been surprised that a group of educators, focused on innovation and reform as a positive utility, would adopt a single concept so completely and project its reign for a 100 years…what will we have in 2099, 21st century learning as we have it now?

It’s possible that there is something unique in our technological landscape and this pedagogy, but I’m less sure of this then most.  Perhaps “more is different” as Clay Shirky suggests, but perhaps it’s not.  When members of the Oldowan Culture were breaking rocks into tools 2.6 million years ago, they sat in groups.  They helped each other, they collaborated and improved, they gave feedback and shared, they did everything we are asking of our students in their learning and are calling new and innovative under 21st century learning.  Class discussions are asymmetrical, like conversations on SM, and require the same social skills.  When a student is sneaking a peek at answers in their desk and making sure the teacher isn’t going to catch them, they are multitasking.  Is there any skill required in 21st century learning, besides button pushing, that hasn’t existed, as a skill, in the last 5 centuries?

I am further perplexed by our current push to leave the past behind us and innovate.  The present was built on the skills of the past.  We inhabit a world of social media and communication revolution that was constructed from the education system we are so quickly trying to abandon.  I was a product of that learning environment, as were most of us here, yet here we are adapting, using, creating and all without the benefits of a school system designed to include 21st century learning skills – one wonders how we do it?  If people need radically different education to navigate this world, then surely we can’t hope to do so.  Further, with our rapidly changing media landscape, why do the skills 21st “centuriests” are now focused on, have a better chance to prepare students for that unknown future?  Won’t they be outdated as students mature?  It reminds me of Marshall McLuhan’s line “if it works, it’s obsolete.”

Valuing innovation and innovators is a cultural choice and not a universal truth.  Some prefer stability, familiarity, tradition, etc.  Can we in multi-cultural Canadaretool our education system with this cultural tenant so entrenched in the idea of 21st century learning?  Each change in the process seems to create new problems as it solves old ones; it seems to be a zero sum gain/game.  Is each innovation in pedagogy an improvement or just a change?

Instead of focusing our discussion about 21 century learning, it seems to me that we should be focusing on effective learning and teaching.  There are fun, engaging, activities to be created and done with the tools we now have available, but 21st learning seems merely to be “an improved means to an unimproved end.”  The goals for our teaching and student learning, the skills we wish to engender, are the same skills that led to success in the past.  Let’s not focus on the century, that seems like focusing on the technology at the expense of focusing on the learning.  Let’s stop talking about learning in the 21st century and just talk about the skills students need in order to be successful and the many approaches, even traditional approaches, to engender them.  Let’s drop dropping catch phrases to blur our conversations and drop making false dichotomies between the past and the present…

 

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