Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The creation of my final project

My digital project is not impressive in terms of what is available on the internet, but I am proud of it. I believe it is evidence of tremendous personal growth and it will be a useful tool for teaching SS 9. Its creation was arduous and I struggled a great deal to learn some of the basics of designing a page such as this.

The first thing I did was, obviously, sign up for a wikispace account. This may sound elementary to some, but for a man who only recently jumped on the Facebook train and, quite honestly, has no real idea how to use even the simplest of social utilities, even registration presented its challenges. For example, all of the names I wanted for my page were taken, so, in a state of rage and exasperation, I settled on socialstudies90, which, I realize, is lame.

The next step was to decide what a wiki was and what I was going to include in terms of material. It was not like I had a burning desire to try an build a wiki, I didn't even know what constituted a wiki. Ironically, I got the information from wikipedia.

The next step was to decide on which part of the Social Studies 9 course on which to focus. I decided to concentrate on the Middle Ages, believing that I would be able to fine-tune the site prior to actually using it in an interactive manner.

Then, I typed up my introduction, which is simply a recap of what created the medieval world and when it existed. It took me a great deal of effort to learn how to change fonts and sizes to create something somewhat visually appealing, but I think I did a good job.

I then had to decide what to include in terms of areas or links. I decided on assessments, assignments, participant directory, student resources, student work, and teacher resources. After that, it was a process of adding in links. Sounds simple, and it is, but it took me hours to figure out how to add links.

I put in student resources which align with the assignments which align with the assessments. I linked many youtube and united streaming videos (you need a password for the united streaming videos) that are matched with assignments. This took hours of research and watching videos (which I love) and hours of inserting links and making sure things looked organized. One challenge is allowing students to use some of the streaming sites such as youtube. Our tech guys have assured me that I will be able to allow them access under my supervision in one of our labs soon. This is necessary as all 17 video vignettes on the 100 Years' War are from youtube.

I still have to decide the level of interactivity with which I am comfortable and I need to organize the process of introducing students to the site and teaching them to use it as I see fit. I have explored a great deal and I realize I can allow them to edit and to really create and re(create), which is exactly why I embarked on the project in the first place. It is impossible and unnecessary to describe every edit, but know that there were hundreds, and not all of them were for the better!

I know my final product is not amazing, but it does represent a departure from my traditional methods of planning. I am proud of what I have created and you can view it at http://socialstudies90.wikispaces.com/ . Check it out, you might learn a little history!

@Dr. Couros - I will email you with a synopsis of my journey through technology when I am ready for the wiki to be graded.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Peters video

I just watched a video entitled "Educating for Creativity"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_w4AfflmeM, which is simply a recording of Tom Peters ranting about the failing education system. While he makes some excellent points and his philosophical outlook is well thought - out, his obnoxious nature makes his message difficult to digest.

He describes our collective history in four tidy stages: the age of agriculture, the age of industrialization, the age of information intensification (present), and, finally, the age of creation intensification. His rant against the machine is buttressed by such evidence as "I want a 2.0, because you are either lazy or stupid or both" when referring to why he doesn't recommend hiring those with a GPA of 4.0. Profound.

I understand what he is trying to say, I just think he needs to work on his skills as a presenter, and perhaps reinvent his personality. Our education system does insist on conformity and resists, at all turns, student attempts at creativity. This is partially because of teachers' collective need to control, and partially because of the mandated curricula teachers are made to teach. In many courses, there is not sufficient time for investigation and what Peters might term 'creativity'.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Playing School"

I just watched a video called "Pay Attention" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEFKfXiCbLw . The video was a conglomeration of facts and statements presented in a "Did you know" fashion. I love these types of videos because they force me to reconsider what I am doing and what I believe about education.

In one section of the video, a statement made by a student appears that is extremely impactful and should force all educators to rethink their respective pedagogical practices. The student claimed that he had learned to "play school", to study facts the night before an exam and regurgitate them the next day thus becoming a successful student. To me, this hits home in a profound way.

Our schools and classrooms are designed in a way that does not mirror or represent the lived experiences of our students. Every day we ask young boys and girls to sit still, be quiet, and listen. Why? Classrooms today look very much like they did a century ago, but the world does not. The educational establishment, of which I am a part, is obsolete and irrelevant to many students. To realize this is almost depressing and certainly frightening.

The term 'paradigm shift' is ridiculously overused and incorrectly used. People today seem to think that any minor change in their lives represents a shift in paradigm, but that is really not the case. The fact that the term is over used represents our common fear of change. We, in education, are more afraid than anyone. We must engage in a genuine paradigm shift in order to best serve our students and avoid fossilization!

The video made me recall a conversation I had with a colleague last Tuesday over the issue of cel phones in school. My colleague was almost violently opposed to their presence in the school and I could not help but engage in a debate. I asked her why and she claimed they were nothing but a distraction and that they allowed for too much communication. I gasped, half because of the nonsensical nature of the comment and half because I realized that my gut response may not have been much different. As such, I am rethinking my stance on cel phones and other technology access points and their availability.

If I students can't have a cel phone because they can easily cheat on my exam, the problem is actually the exam!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Technology is the new divide

I was fortunate enough to sit in on a two-hour presentation by Avis Glaze, a renowned educator from the York region. The conversation turned to trends affecting education and, of course, technology came up. I spoke of the wonders of web 2.0 and how it has the potential to connect the world and allow students to fundamentally change the way they think and learn. I trumpeted the language of collaborative learning and (re)creation, claiming that educators must go in this new direction or risk fossilization.

She calmly asked the simple question, "What has technology done for the least among your children?"

I instantly got a knot in my throat as I considered the fact that many of the children, especially those at-risk, I teach do not have access to technology and will probably never have access.

She continued by claiming that while technology is wonderful and it must be embraced by the educational establishment, it is also "the new divide" ensuring that "the 'haves' remain the knows and the 'have nots' remain the 'know nots' ".

This is a frightening message and one that we need to consider. This is not to say that we need to limit the use of technology in education, but that we, as a society and a social institution must proliferate technology to the "have nots" so they have a chance to become the "knows".

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Larry Lessig

I just watched the TED talks video Dr. Couros linked to our course wiki. Incredible. He tells three short stories, one involving the notion of ownership of airspace, one involving "talking machines" and their perils with respect to the evolution of the human voice box, and one pertaining to broadcast rights of music and the development of BMI. While these stories are seemingly not connected, there is, in fact, a common link.

The argument Lessig is attempting, successfully, to make is that the internet has the potential to revive what he calls the "read - write". That is, we, as potential creators, have the opportunity to connect and not only create, but recreate and build upon what already exists. In this way, we can make incredible progress in all areas including academics, art, literature, and so on.

Lessig phrases this in a very poignant way. He believes that, in the process of sharing and using the internet to its ability, we can produce and create for the love of the material and not for the money. He cites examples of various remixes, and some of them are hilarious, to illustrate the potential for growth upon what already exists using technology and the human imagination. Lessig is adamant that it should be viewed as permissible for people to take pieces of content already 'invented' and (re)create material and producing something new.

The most interesting part of the video is his assertion that we have a new literacy based on the digital world. At the outset of this class, I would have bristled and taken offence to this notion, but I am starting to understand and even to agree. Kids do not think, learn, or express themselves in the same way that I did just fifteen years ago. We, as an adult establishment, need to reconsider the way we view these new literacies and legitimize them so that we are not a barrier to the progress of young creative minds, but a facilitator.

This is a great idea and a truly altruistic concept, but I wonder if human nature will ever allow it to happen. One of the primary motivations for human behaviour is money and greed. While he laments the lack of common sense inherent in legal assumptions regarding copyright law, they are buttressed by a fundamental human quality, greed. I hope that the open content movement continues to build momentum, and I intend to be a part of that, but it often takes time to defeat the powerful force of human greed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Twitter Video

I just watched the most hilarious video on Twitter on youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w
Though there is a great deal of humour involved, there are some serious questions about how the webtool should be used. Should people Twitter about nothing? Or, should people Twitter only when they have something interesting to say or share? For me, Twitter is not for self-affirmation, it is a tool I will use to connect with ideas and people. I vow never to become a Twitter addict like Craig, but I do see the tool as amazing and I will continue to use it, but not to broadcast every mundane thing I see or do. I think my frustration with facebook is the way people, at least on my friend list, use it. I hope Twitter is different and does not spiral into mere exhibitionism. I suppose it all depends on who you have on your contact list.

Death of the book?

As an avid reader and a lover of literature, I must express some concern over the effect of technology on reading. If educators establish their own creative commons in the digital world and spend large amounts of time online, it has the potential to take away from time available for reading. Similarly, society at large is spending more and more time online.

I actually consulted our school librarian to see if she had any data on numbers of books signed out to see if an overall decline in reading was occurring. I was surprised to see that the number of books signed out has been steadily increasing over the last few years. During the last calendar year, our school of 430 kids has signed out almost 15000 books! That is fantastic!

It is interesting to note, however, that kids do virtually no research through library books anymore. Instead they rely on the internet as a resource. I have to admit, it is far easier to find information online, but there is a nostalgic part of me that longs to be on the 4th or 6th floor of the UofS library all by myself gently opening an old hard-cover book that has not been touched in 20 years. Perhaps that is my inner historian speaking.

I value reading and, though I want my students and my own children to be immersed in the digital world, I also want them to read. While reading seems to be alive and well at present, I hope we guard against its extinction. I guess it is all about balance.