Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

Michael Wesch has done it again, and done it well.

He's a cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University and he created this video with his students. Or maybe I should say that his students created it with him, since it came out of a Google Doc worked on by all 200 of them. Like his previous video, The Machine is Us/ing Us, he shows some of the implications of Web 2.0.

At the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai, Will Richardson encouraged us to look at conversations outside of education to inform our practice and help us envision the needed changes. He made me realize how much of what I read has been written by classroom teachers, which is good, but limiting.

Being a cultural anthropologist, Michael Wesch brings a different perspective to the issue of 21st Century Literacy. For example, in "The Machine is US/ing Us", he starts out showing how digital text is different than printed text and then goes on to show the implications of that, how it has changed and is changing the world. By the end, he is pushing us to reconsider key definitions of copyright, and even family.

This new video is yet another push that I need to start making changes. I do all this reading and thinking, but not much acting. I was much more constructive and progressive as a classroom teacher than I am as a technology coordinator. Part of that is due to the tremendous learning curve I went through last year working in a new school in a new country on a platform new to me. Part of it is working in such a large school. As a classroom teacher, I could still close my door and move ahead on my own, if need be. Now I am a coordinator trying to move 50+ teachers and more than 800 students forward.

Those are all valid excuses, but they are still excuses. As I get a better handle on this job, one of my obstacles now is empathizing too much with the classroom teachers. They are so stressed, always working so hard, that I am loathe to add more to their load. I too clearly remember the heavy feeling of not being able to add one more thing to my schedule without imploding.

When I was a classroom teacher, I turned to tech in part because it made my job easier, and also because I was finding it the most effective way to make the curriculum more engaging and meaningful. When I was a technology integration specialist in Malaysia, with some teachers I was able to share this vision, help them move along. I think most would did so would admit that it didn't exactly make their job easier, but it was such a powerful learning tool that it was worth the effort. [I find it interesting that the projects I created with them were much richer, more worthwhile than the projects I did as prep activities. All I can say is that I was new to the job and kept teaching the outcomes, even though the outcomes were too skills based.]

So, it looks like my challenge this year, is to keep pondering the messages of Michael Wesch, Karl Fisch's "Did You Know?", and Kim Cofino's definition of 21st Literacy Century, to make me passionate enough about all of this that I DO feel justified in adding on to the teacher's burdens. Hopefully I'll find a way to keep it from being a burden to them. Either way, that's my job. I'd better get to it!

Thanks to Bud Hunt for Tweeting about it. (How exactly, should we credit Tweet sources? It there an APA citation format for Twitter yet?)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The K12 Online Meme - Three Things I Hope to Get Out of the Conference

Participate in the free K12 Online Conference

The K12 Online Conference has begun! They started a meme to help publicize the event. Here's my response.

1. Watching the dialogue develop- Many of the bloggers I follow are presenting at this conference. I'm interesting in hearing what's new in their thinking, what new steps their thoughts have taken.

2. Professional Development with/for Learning 2.0 - I know how tremendously web 2.0 technologies have impacted my own professional development. As a tech coordinator, I am struggling to provide PD for my staff that helps them move ahead, and embrace these technologies, both because they make the curriculum more engaging, and because at the moment, our students are getting left behind.

3. Practical Knowledge and New Frontiers - After attending the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai, my staff is starting to bring these disruptive technologies into their curriculum. I want to be well informed to help them do this. I also want to have my own thinking pushed.


Oh Dear,

I am on holiday in Krabi, Thailand, enjoying the sun, sand and surf. I had looked forward to finally doing some substantial blogging while here since I'd have time to really reflect and write. Instead, I've been watching the tide roll in and out. I've never really done that before. It might sound a bit like watching paint dry, but it holds my attention.

Also spent low tide climbing around on rocks, exploring mud flats and tide pools-- who'd have thought so much could be living in the water in crevices in boulders?

After that, someone had to check out and follow the animal tracks in the sand. Do rats live on beaches? If not, what four-footed critters with feet the size of rats live on beaches in Thailand?

I couldn't come this far and not swim in the blue-green water and comb the beach, and eat dinner near the shore watching amazing sunsets while local guys play a mean game of soccer on the beach.

In the evening we had a massage and ate ice cream and watched "Return of the King" for at least the sixth time (and it was still good.)

Tomorrow we head back to Singapore, where I'll get to publish this post and maybe even add a photo or two. No words of wisdom besides these... Go spend some time by the sea.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Custom Typing

Last year I realized that our keyboarding program was not meeting our needs. The problem wasn't the software or instruction, it was the lack of access to the computers. Typing is better learned in shorter sessions many times per week than one long session of equivalent length. (There is research to support that statement, but it is back in Minnesota in my Hamline materials, instead of here where I need it. Just call it packing mistake #236.) Unfortunately, our lab spaces are maxed out as it is, no chance to get the classes in more often. And since we are stuck in the tech integration-as-prep-time mode, I can't front end load extra typing sessions early in the year. Therefore, a home option seems best.

This week, I'm introducing my fourth and fifth grade classes to Custom Typing. It is an online subscription typing program. We piloted it last year and were pleased with the students' progress. I was also pleased by the great customer service we received. We usually received a useful response within 24 hours. This fall, I was able to upload the accounts via a database file. It was a life saver as I created more than 700 accounts.

This year I made it available to any fourth or fifth grade class as long as the teacher agreed to...
  • assign it as homework for at least 3 nights per week
  • monitor student progress on a regular basis
  • become familiar enough with the program that they can provide student support for basic problems.
This introductory lesson that I taught this week has the kids logging in, choosing an animated coach, choosing a background, and going through the introduction. They loved choosing the coach and the backgrounds. They found the intro deadly dull. They found the initial exercises long, but most were able to complete their first quiz. They needed a score of 61, but most has a score over 100. That was just the hook they needed.

Of course, it is not free of problems. One problem is that the workstations at their homes were probably set up for adults, not children. Fortunately, the site has a good ergonomics section built in. It has helpful photos to supplement the kid-friendly text. Some teachers are making it an assignment to view that section and report back on how their home workstation measures up.

Another problem is that children are unlikely to voluntarily cover the keyboard to prevent peeking. However, this program works well enough that the students in the pilot last year did get past the peeking stage. Each exercise is long enough that they stop looking since they "know" the keys.

I asked the teacher to attend this first session so I could get them up to speed with the program. Initially I had not set up student accounts for the teachers themselves, but a number of them asked for them, so I made them for everyone. Teachers us a different login to get to the student accounts and records. I didn't get much feedback from them. I'm sure they wished they could be having their prep time instead, but they are great sports and attended anyhow.

Next I need to create the support materials for teachers to send home, and to help teachers generate student reports. At least the children have all been able to log in and seem to be enjoying it.