Archive | October, 2010

My Thoughts about Connectivism and Where We Really Are.

24 Oct

Asking Questions About the Pakistan Flood

“We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change out attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.”

-Stephen Downes

October 18, 2010

Huffington Post

That quote was posted during Tuesday’s class by Alec from the Huffington Post.  I first read it in the context of the class and what we are learning about how education can be but then I stopped and re-read it from the context of where education is, and specifically I am thinking about in my classroom with my students.

In this class we are learning about the possibilities of PLNs and social networking in the classroom.  What I have been struggling with in regards to this is that I do not believe that my school board or my students are ready for this approach to learning and that has really been bumming me out lately.  I have been professionally, personally, academically and emotionally bummed and to top it all off, I have had a virus since the end of August! So I did a few things about it, I added a  mental health day to my weekend (which I needed seeing as how I slept for 12 hours and Friday was the first day that I did not cough excessively), I went shopping, caught up on my yard work, hung out with my husband, watched movies and got a massage (oh, and caught up on my work for this class.) The result: not so bummed.  This has left me with a new perspective on things, including this quote which, four days ago, I may have looked at with cynicism and have instead decided to look at it by asking myself, what does it mean for me, right now, within the context of what I am able to do with my students and in my classroom?

In the last two years I have had students that did not want to be in my class and parents that agreed and tried to pull them out.  Not because I am a terrible teacher but because I encourage students to take charge of their own learning and be responsible for what they achieve from their year in my class and I do this through my Constructivist approach to learning.  I have been trying (with some success, I have to say) to develop a classroom that is deeply engrossed in Inquiry and Project based learning that features both curriculum content, social justice issues and global awareness. Not an easy task, let me tell you.  I have also made it a goal to use any and all available technology to support this perspective in my classroom. (It is my opinion that you can not have an effective inquiry and project based classroom without technology but some would disagree).  So when I enrolled in this class I expected to learn about some more Web 2.0 tools to use to support this as well as some discussion about social media in the classroom.  What I did not expect was a whole new concept (PLN) to be thrown into my wonderings about what makes effective learning.  I started off on a mission to incorporate this into my already expansive quest to reform education.  I was hit hard with the realities of it all; the red tape, the skills and experience of myself and my students, the availability of the actual machines to make it happen and I became bummed.  So needed to back up and take stock of what I am doing to facilitate this concept right now, slowly, at a pace myself, my students, my colleagues, my employer and my parents can handle.  So here is a run down of what I came up with in response to how my students are creating education for themselves:

  • They collaborate with each other daily, in every subject.  It may not be on Twitter or Facebook or a Google Doc (yet) but they are doing it and it’s a start.  To facilitate this I have tables instead of desks so they can look at each other and most of our projects offer them the choice of working with others or alone.
  • Their learning is connected.  We try not to separate things into separate subjects.  We try to make their Science, Social Studies and Literacy connect so that they are faced with a large concept not small separate tasks and I think that this helps them connect their learning.
  • True to Constructivist theory instead of teaching my students facts, I am constantly teaching my students to ask questions about what they read, view and hear.  That is the #1 skill needed in my room, how to ask good questions.  From there, they are in charge of what questions they ask and how they find the answers them.  Talk about being in charge of their learning. In fact, I am starting a project with them this week based on this assignment that will hopefully lead them in all different directions ranging from the obesity epidemic to the distribution of wealth and how that relates to food, depending on what their questions and interests are.
  • They can choose how they acquire and present their learning to me in most assignments and I strongly encourage them to use technology as it is so much more interesting than a poster and offers them a much broader audience. In terms of acquiring knowledge, internet resources are just so much more available, expansive and up to date than the print resources that they have access to.  Sorry to all you who like kids to still use books for research but I have given up on that.
  • They have multiple opportunities to communicate with me outside of school; email, Facebook (only as an experiment for this class right now), our website, our wiki and just the fact that I have all of those things connected to my Blackberry.  When I was in school, not that long ago, there was no way to do that.  The first thing I remember was taking ECOMP 355 and thinking it was cool that Alec responded so quickly via email (well, cool and I was a little concerned for his social life) 😉

Now that I approaching what I am doing and what I am learning to do from a “non-bummed” perspective, I see that although we may not be ready for this quite yet, we are starting something and someday, we will be there:


A Day in the Life of a Connected(?) Teacher

18 Oct

After last weeks class I stopped and asked myself a question, “how connected am I as a teacher and in my personal life?”  I did not do this to compare myself to Zoe Branigan-Pipe as our circumstances are very different, specifically in the realm of access to technology (I am not about to hope for a tornado anytime soon but it sure would be nice to have my classroom stacked like hers is!) but to ask myself if I am doing everything that I possibly can do to be connected.

How is my communication connected:

1. I wake up and check my Blackberry.  Yes, I am one of those people.  It is usually beside my bed, I don’t have a land line in my room so I tell myself it’s for safety but I really just feel lost without it.  That is weird now that I see it written out, but I am sure I am not the only one. Anyone else addicted to their iPhone or Blackberry?

2.  I do not check my email before heading to school, I just don’t have time but I do as soon as I as have a chance when I get there.  If my day is particularly busy, I check my Blackberry message feed at lunch for sure.

3. I prefer to communicate with parents via email.  I don’t get messages everyday (which is good) but when I get them I can reply much quicker than I can return a phone call.

4.  3:30 bell rings: I check my Facebook to see what my peeps are up to! This will be the first of probably 5 or 6 times that I will check Facebook before I go to bed. I also update my three methods of communication with my students; our class wiki, website and my newest experiment, Facebook.  This communication is the subject of my project for this class.

5.  Texting and Blackberry Messenger: My husband is a firefighter and works nights sometimes, we text often during the day as well but I find that during the evening, we text even more.  We have had some very important conversations via text! I have many people on my BBM but I communicate regularly with my brother using this method.  It’s like he lives in my purse!

6. For this class I use this blog of course.  I am also just starting to see the merits of Twitter IF it is used for networking in a PLN not for updating people with my boring day-to-day life.  That’s what Facebook is for. 🙂 I follow the blogs of my classmates using Google Reader.  I think that is about all I can handle right now as it is sometimes overwhelming to keep up with just those three.  I also created a Delicious account and saved some bookmarks to it but I am unsure of what to do with them!

Connections in my classroom:

1. Available technology:  There once was a time when I was the only teacher that regularly used the cart of 10 Macbooks and it basically lived in my room.  Moving to a bigger school changed that a little for the first year and now as more and more teachers are seeing the merits of using online tools in their rooms our two carts are not enough.  I am lucky enough to have applied for and received a demo cart of 15 HP mini laptops in my room this year.  This makes having a connected classroom so much more feasible.  We just got a SMARTboard in our school but it is not set up yet. I have experience using one and I know that once it is up and running, I will make good use of it.

2. Teaching Pedagogy and Connectivism:  My teaching pedagogy is based in Constructivism, Inquiry and Project based learning.  I think that to teach in these methodologies effectively, I need to have access to appropriate technologies at all times.  What does this look like in my room?  Students are on YouTube. Often.  This is much to the dismay of some people in my school but I know that they are used to acquiring information both visually and auditory, so why not.  My students also do a lot of other internet research.  This means that I spend time at the beginning of my year teaching information literacy skills. These are necessary in my class.  My students have iGo accounts through the school board, can access my gradebook and their marks online, can retrieve information from the class website and contribute to the class wiki, routinely use Web 2.0 tools to present their learning to each other and communicate with me via Facebook or email.  They are allowed to use their iPods for anything that they need to support their learning, whether that be reading on it, using the internet or listening to music to help them focus.  These are just some of the ways that my kids are connected, if I described everything, we would be here for too long.

Here is an example of my students using YouTube to teach the class about the science of zombies!

I think that I am doing pretty well in terms of being a connected teacher but I know that there are things that I would like to improve.

Improvements that I would like to make:

1. Experience with more Web 2.0 tools:  My students know that my two least favorite ways for them to share their learning with myself and the rest of the class are posters and Powerpoint so they are always looking for ways to present that are more interesting to view.  I find that when they ask for recommendations for web tools for them to use, I am sometimes at a loss.  I would like to find time sometime to explore more tools.  I know that there are lists of tools but I just need to find the time to play with them so I can recommend the best to my students for their needs.  I recently had a student that wanted to learn something new and so I Tweeted a plea for good tools and this is the result:

Life on Other Planets

2. Patience:  I need to work on being more patient with people who are learning.  My colleagues often come to me for help or advice on using media in their classrooms.  I am sometimes not the most patient person when it comes to this.  I know that they need to learn and at sometime someone what patient with me while I am learning (thank you Alec and Stu Harris) and I need to return the favour.

Reflecting on what I am doing and what I need to do has been helpful.  I see now that I am doing a lot for myself and my students and have set goals for myself.  What are you doing to be a connected teacher that can inspire me to do even more? Please share!


12 Oct




I had an experience on Friday that has crushed my spirit a little bit.  I have waited until today to blog about it because I wanted to digest it for a while before I begin to rant about it.  I also spent time reading other classmate’s blogs before I began to write and I noticed that I now approach them with a little cynicism and disappointment.  I hope that like other bad news that I receive, I am able to work past it soon, otherwise I might as well just give up now and stop working so hard to make things different. In fact, if things remain this way, I might as well give up teaching because I don’t want to work in schools if I can not help change the face of education because, well, it’s kind of my thing.  I love to push the envelope.  That is why I am in this class. Aren’t we all?

Friday was our PD day.  Our board office is strongly encouraging teachers to use the Blog and websites that we have been provided. As most of our teachers do not know where to begin with this our principal arranged for one of our consultants, a tech expert, to come and help them get started.  Later in the session he began talking to us about the importance of using only board supported tools and web 2.0 tools that allow for only account administer tracking.  He suggested using only Classblogmeister, iGo (that is set up by the board office) and our classroom websites.  Everything else, and he meant everything, should be used with caution and with written parent consent.  This means no Wikispaces, Prezi, Amimoto and the list goes on and on. He also said, under no circumstances should we ever use any kind of social networking with our students especially Facebook and Twitter.  As he was talking, I felt my heart sink and my face turn red.  My colleagues all turned to look at me as I had told a lot of them about my project for this class. The whole thing centers around the most effective, useful and authentic communication tool between parents and students and teachers and my hypothesis is that Facebook will prove to be the victor.  And here I was listening to a consultant from my board tell me that I could get in big trouble for what I had already sent the permission slips home for.  My spirit was crushed.

What was most troubling about this was that the man who was telling me to be very cautious with exploring most forms of  technology with my students is one of the people who first encouraged and inspired me to do so.  If he, who supports educational technology and believes that “connectivism will save education” (direct quote from him on Friday. P.S. I was super excited that I knew what he was talking about while the rest of the teachers were blank) is telling me that our schools are not ready yet and I have no board office support, what hope do I have?  What is the point of being excited and inspired from this class when I may have to wait 10 years for the decision makers downtown to catch up to the technological possibilities of education?

As he was packing up to leave, I approached him and told him what I was doing for this class and that I was afraid to do it now, I mean, the assistant director’s daughter is in my class!  Am I going to get fired for posting homework and permission slip reminders on a school only Facebook account?  He told me that he was on my side and personally supports the use of Social Networking and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, in fact all of his Graduate work centered around Connectivism and PLNs, but that it was his job to warn me that our school board is just not there yet and that I should proceed with caution because if something were to happen during these communications, I would have no support from the school board.  He could certainly tell that I was discouraged and frustrated.  Later, that night I received an email from him encouraging me to keep going and telling me that my students were privileged to have me.  That helped a lot but I still have been left with a bad taste in my mouth.

After reading Angela’s blog today I see that my school board is not the only one uncomfortable with the openness of the technology available to our students as she wrote:

“I am not ready to give free reign to the students I teach, especially when the media is used within the school or as part of a school assignment.  When my students blog at school, I want to have control over the blogs themselves as well as the comments that can be posted on the blogs.  Legally, I am not sure of the ramifications if something bad was to happen (and I know that likely, nothing would, but there is a chance).  I am just not ready to give up that total control.”

I agree that her concerns are valid but what about those of us that are ready to relinquish control?  We are in graduate studies because we want to learn new things are we not? I want to be able to take my new knowledge to my students and share and experience it right away.  I am told that I have a reputation for being an innovative and non conventional teacher and I am damn proud of that.  How do I continue to innovate when my support system is scared to move forward?  And the reason for their fear is only that they do not understand. Can there be some kind of connection between the innovation that is taught at the university and what our school board personnel can expect to see from their teachers that are continuing their education? What about the new teachers finishing their undergraduate degrees expecting to be able to use what they learned about in school?  Is it fair to crush their enthusiasm before they even have a chance to begin?

I think that my most important question from all of this is, how long do we have to wait for theory and practice to catch up? This is an especially important question given the nature of ever-changing technology.  Chances are that if five, ten years from now directors start encouraging PLN and networking with teachers outside of school, there will be something new and terrifying for them to discourage and I will be right back in the same position;  frustrated and disheartened. I don’t know what the answers to my questions are but I would sure appreciate some insight.

How Will Education be Different?

6 Oct

I have spent the better part if the last four years contemplating this question: What can I do to make education different?  Four years ago I was dissatisfied with my teaching and I was dissatisfied with the way my students were passively learning.  I knew that there had to be a better way to do it and I knew that I needed to find it or I would be one of those teachers that only lasted five years.  About that time my school board started rolling out the carts of MacBooks to all of the schools and I discovered Constructivist pedagogy. From these two things, my world of education changed forever. I became an active supporter and practitioner of technology supported learning and inquiry based pedagogy. Listening to Sheryl tonight got me thinking, how else do I want education to be different?  Where am I now, compared to where I was four years ago when I was seeking personal pedagogy reform? What I have discovered through tonight’s presentation is that I have, without realizing it, been seeking a way to connect myself and my students together into a community of learners that moves beyond the classroom walls. Now that I maintain an inquiry based classroom and seem to have moved past the struggles that implementing that presented, my next step apparently has been to create a forum for students to take that inquiry home with them.  I have been trying to find a way for them to have access to the same resources that they would have at school and as much access to myself and to each other as I can create.  I embarked on this journey on my own without really knowing what this class would be about but now I can see how it all connects.

I have maintained a classroom website, provided by the board office for a few years.  On this site I basically offer a list of the homework as well as links to other sites that I use like my on-line grade book.  It is pretty simplistic and offers no collaborative benefits. It was a good start but is pretty stale.  This year I am working collaboratively with two other teachers and their students. Our vision is to view our grade 7/8s as a collection of 75 students that we all teach, not through subject switches but through parallel learning and collaborative projects.  We wanted the freedom to mix our students as needed and so far, I think that is working quite well. (For example, we have students with various levels of knowledge and experience with Inquiry based learning, so we divided the students into three groups, two to learn how to inquire and seek answers and one to hone their skills) After we decided that this was how we would structure our wing of the school I began to think of ways to join our classroom communities. I started by creating a wiki. This was the only way that I really knew how to create a collaborative space at the time, because we had worked on a collaborative project last year and most of the students knew how to use it.  I wanted a space where students from all three classes could access AND contribute information for their school work in a collaborative manner.  The result is 0ur SeniorEagles wiki.  So far, the wiki is a little simple but I know that it is a space that will become more useful with time.  My students are all members and have collaboratively created a space of resources on the First Nation’s people’s use of the bison that will be used for an activity by all three classes later. The problem is, right now, it’s only my students using it and even then, only when I tell them too.  I surveyed my students last week to see how they were using the resources that I offer them and this chart shows the result I received in regard to the wiki:

These are the results I received regarding wiki usage

Seeing how my students only use this resource when I tell them to, my vision how we can work together is not really coming to fruition.  I needed another course of action.  Last week I blogged a story from CBC news about a teacher in Regina using Facebook in his classroom and the criticism that he was getting for it. I wondered why we are so scared of using social media in the classroom.  Won’t students be more engaged if we use what they know and like or would it, as I have discussed before, be weird to them, like we are invading their private lives.  If they feel that way, then how can we smoothly connect social media and traditional schools.  I know that eventually community based learning and networking at school will be as common as a yellow number 2 pencil but I want to make that transition now and I want to make it smoothly.  Knowing that Facebook is controversial (I have students who are not allowed to use it) and knowing I may be criticised for using it in school, I decided to test its usefulness as a means of communicating and collaborating with my students. To see how they felt about the possibility I asked my kids through survey and they seemed to be very supportive of the idea. SurveySummary_10052010

Facebook Question

In this question I ask my students about how likely they would be to communicate with me via Facebook

So I decided to conduct an experiment.  I am going to operate my classroom website and wiki as usual and add a school based Facebook account and perhaps a Twitter account (by student request) and ask for students and parents to use these resources and give me feedback on what worked and what did not.  This way, I am not the only one making decisions on how I want education to change and I am not the only one creating the learning communities in my school.  I am hoping that this experiment will be my project for this class. So, ask me again how education in my class will be different and I will answer you with, “let me ask my students and I will let you know”.

If anyone has any feedback on my experiment, I would love to hear it. This idea of forming a community is still very much in the beginning stage and any advice or commentary would be very valuable.

Student Needs Suggestions

4 Oct

One of my students is doing a project on how/if we could live on another planet.  She and I are stuck for presentation ideas.  Any suggestions?

Also please follow me on Twitter scottyswife2008!