Ideas worth stealing

A good idea is always worth stealing – and modifying.  Take last Thursday as a case in point.

We always struggle to make professional development days at school engaging.  Too many times we have been reminded as teachers of the sheer torture we put students through each and every day by having a “sit and get” style of presentation, where one person who has been identified as an expert makes a presentation to the whole group on something they might deem as important. Rarely is it engaging, much less relevant.

As we pondered a couple of weeks ago about how to approach this upcoming day, I was reminded by my colleague Kim Cofino at the International School of Bangkok that there are many experts in our midst.  She wrote recently about their staff’s recent experiences with “speed-geeking”, where teachers were exposed to a variety of strategies and tools from a number of staff members over a short period of time.

We decided to take that approach one step further. We based a part of Thursday’s PD sessions on the “speed-dating” model now being used across the globe as a means of meeting potential partners.  It is often said that you can tell pretty quick whether someone is worth the effort.  We were interested if the same could be said for new teaching strategies, tools and projects.

Not having and first-hand knowledge of speed-dating, our model was based purely on perception of a process.  That being said, it worked out pretty well.

We started with Chris Lehmann’s  “Schools We Need” presentation from the IgnitePhilly series.  This was meant to generate some mental juices surrounding the idea of school change and what it could really look like.

Teachers were then broken into groups of two.  A timer was put on the SMART Board and set at six minutes.  Teachers were told they had three minutes to show their partner one new practice, project, assessment, etc. that they have introduced into their classroom in the past year.  They then had three minutes to listen to their colleague’s idea.  Then one rotated to the next table while one stayed.

Teachers were not expected to focus on technology-based ideas.  In fact, they were told that innovation did not have to be centered on their laptops.  That being said, most of the new practices were made possible by teacher laptops and student 1:1 programs.

This was not meant to dig deep into the process or practice.  We felt that, like speed-dating, one would be able to assess pretty quickly if there was anything of interest there for them.  They could follow up at a later date if they wanted more details.  We were looking for two outcomes; teachers would be exposed to six new ideas (we did six rounds in 45 minutes) and teachers received an implicit message that they should be looking at new practices on a continual basis.

Thanks Kim.  I know you won’t mind the remodel.

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, Kim Cofino

Photo: img_4042, Uploaded to Flickr on September 7, 2006 by Urban Mixer

Wikispaces Rocks!

Of all the web tools, wikis are by far the most powerful, serving as a platform for pulling together text, images, audio, video in a tremendously rich environment.  Of all the wiki platforms available – and with apologies to Wetpaint and PB Wiki – I just don’t think you can beat Wikispaces.

I support and promote wikispaces for three reasons; the ease of use of the interface, the upload space of 2GB with each free K12 space and, most importantly, their tremendous support!

Every month we have seen new and improved features in wikispaces.  Late last year it was improved text formatting, then the abilty to create your own accounts for students and the ability to protect pages within a wiki.

Now comes a whole new slew of templates.  It used to be that wikis were pretty limited on being pretty, but now the design team has introduced a whole new suite to their look and feel department, and it’s being met with open arms by teachers and students.  The new designs give a range of looks that allow learners to tweak their wiki to better serve their learning objectives.

To check out the new templates on your space, go to the “Manage Wiki” link, select “Look and Feel” and “Change or Make a New Theme“.  Play around with the new themes knowing that you can always revert back to the original.

Another cool feature – that has actually been around for a while, ] is the ability to pimp your space.  With just a little bit of html knowledge (if I can do it, anyone can) your wikispace can be individualized in many ways.

In my world, wiki’s rock!

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, wikispaces

More connections

Last week I had the opportunity to support two groups of learners as they broke down the walls of their classrooms and connected virtually – although I might suggest that for our young people the term virtual holds different meaning that with us – with students from different areas of the world.

For the second year in a row, some of our Grade 8 french students were involved in a student project with students at the American School of Bombay in Mumbai.  The project involved enticing the students to improve their french second langauge skills to connect and share stories with students in Mumbai.  They chatted about various aspects of culture and generally connected in many ways.  The primary project tool was a wiki, but Thursday morning (late afternoon in Mumbai) our students hooked up via skype, connected with each other and opened the gift boxes sent by their counterparts.

Then, on Friday, I was able to participate in the opening salvo of a new french language project between students at NMS and Carey Pohanka‘s class at Fredericksburg Academy in Virginia.  They have exchanged ambassadors  – which will be unveiled next week – and will begin a month long “visit” which will be documented and shared back to the other class in video format, all narrated en francais.  Again, a project wiki will serve as the primary tool.  You can see a video montage here.

Teacher and student reaction is positive.  Not only do they practice french, it’s for a real purpose.  They also learn much about the world and their role as connected learners in the new global environment.

This is good stuff!

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning

Third Annual 1001 Flat World Tales Begins Soon

Here we go again with another exciting round of this global student writing workshop!

The 1001 Flat World Tales project was initiated by Clay Burell in Korea over three years ago and has been going strong ever since.  No matter what grade level you’re working with, this is a great, easy to implement, collaborative writing project that students love!

This year I am working with Kim Cofino to coordinate the Elementary School section and I am joining with Ann Oro to coordinate the Middle School section.We are looking for someone to take on the high school workshop if you might be interested.

As Kim writes on her blog

We are looking for classrooms at all levels to participate in this writing workshop. The project will last about a month and we’ll set up small grade-level based groups to create collaborative groups for our peer editing process (following the planning process we started last year). If the suggested time frame doesn’t work for you, feel free to start your own workshop later or earlier in the year – our goal is to bring together teachers that would like to embed collaborative writing and authentic audience into their classroom experiences.

As part of the project, students will:

  • experience writing for an authentic audience
  • work collaboratively with peer reviewers around the world
  • follow the writing process to build an understanding of your selected style of writing
  • create and embed multimedia elements to bring a story to life
  • understand how to connect information through hyperlinks
  • utilize a wiki for writing, editing, forum discussion, and revision history

Here in New Brunswick, I’ll be working with Diane MacLeod, a Grade 4 teacher at Keswick Ridge School, in the elementary workshop.

We would absolutely love to have you join this project with your class! Fill out the online form and you’re in! All materials, resources, rubrics and related information can be found on the wiki. Feel free to leave questions here or on the discussion tab of the wiki.

Seven Things You Didn’t Want to Know

Thanks – I think – to my friend Page Lennig for tagging me in the seven things meme.  The idea is you get tagged, you share seven things people are unlikely to know about you, and then you tag others to share their secrets.

So…here goes!

  1. I am an international fastpitch softball official – and have traveled around the globe to work three world championships.
  2. My favorite place in the whole world is Matthew’s Head in Fundy National Park (see photo).
  3. I was once on a flight between Dublin and London and sat just behind Bono of U2.  He’s quite short.
  4. I have undergraduate degrees in Geological Engineering and Education.  I came to teaching at the ripe old age of 39!
  5. My family is half a Brady Bunch – my wife and I have each contributed two kids to the mix.
  6. Nobody should ever confuse me with a mechanic or a handyman!
  7. I used to manage a public radio station, and did some summer DJing at my hometown station.

Hmmm.  Now, who to tag?  How about…

Sharing Our Story

I have been aware of the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Foundation (AALF) for a couple of years and have followed their work from the periphery.  The AALF is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting access to learning by children around the world through access to 1:1 computing and other technology-rich programs.

This month’s issue of their regular on-line publication is special for teachers at our school.  Last fall I was asked to provide an article, focusing on how curriculum has changed since the introduction of our 1:1 program five year ago.  It was a pleasure to be able to showcase the work of our talented and dedicated staff.  You can read the full article here.

This summer, 14 of our staff will be representing the great work of their colleagues as we share our collective story as the 2009 Spotlight School at the Lausanne Laptop Institute in Memphis.  If you are a laptop school, thinking about a laptop program or even looking at ways to leverage technology-rich environments for learning, I would love for you to join us in July.  The AALF co-sponsors this event with the host Lausanne Collegiate School.

Click on the badge in the top right of this blog for details on the conference. Hope to see you there.

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, laptopinstitute, aalf

Unexpected observations

Last week was exam week at our local high schools.  As the father of a Grade 10 student – and having had three kids pass through high school already – I have had conflicting feelings about summative testing.  I wanted my kids to do well for self-esteem and future opportunities, but have always felt, even prior to becoming a teacher, that exams were less than an authentic measure of a person’s knowledge and thus have tried to downplay any expectations of what it meant to be successful.

As I picked up my son last week after his last of five exams for the first term, my ideas about these rituals began to crystallize.  Piling into the car, I asked him how his exam went.  His response – as usual – “OK”.

After a brief pause he asked rhetorically;

“Why do we write exams?  They are kind of like cheating.  They don’t measure what we know. They give us all this information, we memorize it, we write it on the paper and then forget it.  We don’t really learn anything.”

Whoa!  The kids even see how false is their supposed “learning”.  I was blown away by the simplicity of his insights, shared by his friend in the back seat.

So, if we can agree that simple content recall isn’t a measure of anything but how well a student has learned to “play school”, what is the answer?

I would argue that exams don’t need to be eradicated, just modified.  Instead of closed-book, content focused assessments where students simply regurgitate answers fed to them by a teacher over the course of several weeks, why not focus on the process.  Exams could look different, like real-life.

My supervisor has recounted how he gave an “exam” once where he gave one question; design and create a solution to a problem.  All information was available, the issue was authentic and the solution might not even be limited to course content.  Wouldn’t this be a better measure of student learning?

For now, my son has helped my learning process.  You see, it’s in the (sometimes brief) conversations where real learning takes place.

How would / could our exams look different five years from now?

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning

Photo Credit: Setting The Tone For the Exam; Uploaded to Flickr on June 8, 2006 by rileyroxx

What’s in a name?

Last week I was reviewing the user accounts for an online educational service to which our school subscribes.  I was reviewing the accounts to archive former teachers and see which of our new teachers were using the service. As school administrator for the service, I also have access to usernames, which are generated by the teachers themselves.  It is really amazing how much you can tell about people by what they choose for their username. While most had some version of their real name, some had “innovative” – even bordering on graphic – login ID’s.

What’s amazing is that teachers who are signing up for an educational service provided by an external company would use such handles for their username. It reminds me of the various email addresses provided by adult students in the undergrad Education course I taught the last two years at the local university.  Many contained strong imagery – with various takes on “sexy” thrown in – and were far from professional.  I didn’t say anything to any of them, but thinking back, I think I failed them somewhat by not having the conversation about professionalism and digital citizenship.

The question is, if these adults are the ones teaching (or preparing to teach) our students, just what do they have to offer in preparing our future digital citizens.  This is something we need to have conversations around in our schools, but who is going to steer the ship towards sound ideas surrounding creating a positive digital footprint?

Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to their passwords.  I wonder what stories they may have told.  On second thought, maybe I don’t want to know.

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning

Photo Credit: Timelog Login, Uploaded to Flickr on July 9, 2008 by freddyware

The 21st Century Interactive Poster?

Frankly, I shudder when my son asks the question…”Hey dad, can you get me some bristol board?”.  Another poster on the way.

In all my years working in the fields of Engineering, media and project management, I never used or benefited from the having a poster to communicate information.  In schools, they usually are little more than busy work designed to keep students (and parents!) pacified with a basic element in the traditional narrative of education.

Lately, we have seen educators introducing technology to digitize the process as students created collages of images and text digitally.  While this could conceivably be of some benefit in teaching basic computer skills and the efficiencies of digitizing previous practice, it still limits students abilities to collaborate and share their work with an authentic audience.

I recently was introduced to Glogster through twitter (I only wish I could remember who!).  This web-based tool provides an opportunity for students to create and share digital “posters” which they create themselves, either as individuals or in collaborative groups.  These products can include not just text and images, but also hyperlinks and audio.  They can be made to be highly interactive and can be shared via email, through the glogster site itself or embedded into blogs or wikis.

Below is a quick example of a “poster” that I created in just a few minutes.  There are hundreds of much more interesting examples on the site.

I see many uses for this in classrooms as students connect and communicate their new knowledge to an authentic global audience.  From poetry and music to equations and earth science, students could make wonderful media collages.

Check out this collection of Animal Glogs from an elementary school.

What kinds of opportunities to you see?

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning, glogster

How do we interrupt the story?

Being in a small capital city where government and universities are the two major economic drivers has it’s benefits.  Having two undergraduate education programs in town, combined with two other programs less than 90 minutes away, provides us with many opportunities to host student teachers / interns at our school. This gives us a chance to gauge how different programs are preparing students as educators in the 21st century.

One program in particular has really taken a lead in starting conversations about the shift from teaching to learning and the role that technology and the web must play in providing opportunities for students to connect and collaborate. The others? Well…there is still work to be done.

Today I had an opportunity to spend some time with a new student who just started a 12 week internship at our school.  The conversation started somewhere like this.


Me: So, what kinds of courses have you had surrounding technology in your education program?

Her: None

Me: You haven’t had any courses where you used technology?

Her: Well, they did tell us about SMART Boards, but they never taught us how to use them.

Me: Have you heard the term “Web 2.0”?

Her: No

Me: Are you familiar with blogs, wikis?

Her: No

Me: podcasts?

Her: I’ve heard of podcasts, but not in my courses.


Now, this was just a small part of the conversation, but pretty reflective of where she is starting her career. I spent the next hour updating her on our 1:1 program, how we leverage technology for learning, some of the projects we do.  I think I scared/stunned her, especially when I told her that we actually have teachers who have used Social Networking tools like Facebook for learning. I still have much to share.  My question, just what has she learned by spending 3 terms in an education program that has prepared her to be a learning leader for the 21st Century?

It reminded me of Greg Whitby’s video where he encourages us to change the fundamental DNA of teaching and learning.

What role do our university/college teacher training programs have to play in the shift?  Does the shift need to come from somewhere else? Just how/where do we interrupt the education narrative to start a new story?

Technorati tags: technology, education, whipple, learning