Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hole in the Wall

I spent the morning doing some maintenance on my blog, reading twits and blog posts and moving my RSS feeds from Bloglines to Google Reader.
I really like Google Reader because it has allowed me to put a feed from Reader on my iGoogle page. So when I go to my iGoogle page, I just get the new feeds without having to go through them all and I don't even have to leave iGoogle to read the posts - they pop up when I move my mouse over the feed. I love this! Talk about having information come to you!
In the same vein, I found this from a recent twit from Joyce Valenza. She is using Pageflakes to create resource feeds for Global Studies, Science and Spanish. Students at her school can go to this site set up for current web-based information that is updated regularly - in some cases on a daily basis. You'll also see that she has linked to her school's databases. So add a Pageflakes link to a pathfinder wiki and students have access to vetted resources by the teacher or teacher-librarian.
Another twit from Bud the Teacher, had me checking out this mind-boggling presentation by Indian researcher Sugata Mitra posted on TED. The experiment is known as Hole in the Wall. :

It's only a 20 minute video, but does it pack a punch! Check out the comments to this video. If you don't wish to watch the video, you can check out this summary here by Gary Stager Here's a quote from the summary that really spoke to me:

Mitra describes his learning theory as minimally invasive education--a hypothesis that even in totally unfamiliar situations, children in groups will learn on their own with little or no input from others, provided the learning environment induces an adequate level of curiosity (my emphasis). Like in minimally invasive surgery there should be no more expert intervention than absolutely necessary.

This work proves that when provided with access to a computer in a social context, all children will become computer literate with or without a traditional teacher. Mitra's careful experiments confirm the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky. Most of all, "The Hole in the Wall," offers a glimmer of hope for concerned global citizens who do not know where to begin in increasing educational opportunity in the developing world. The "Hole in the Wall" project is a testament to the competency and capacity of children to construct their own knowledge in a community of practice. Internet access can connect children to each other and the 21st century.

So how does this impact on our traditional roles as teachers right from the first day they enter school? What do school do to prevent learning as a self-organizing system? I'm still trying to get my head around this.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Research Projects That Motivate

As we begin the new school year, we need to think about student motivation and engagement. Inquiry-based learning is one of the best ways to motivate students. Students who are able to inquire about things they are passionate about or about things that have a direct impact on their lives are engaged and motivated. So how can we bridge the content we have to teach with student's passion and interests? Design good research projects.

Doug Johnson has 2 posts where he outlines what this means. In his first post he writes about research questions having an 'action element' to them. Take a look at his post where he shows a level 4 research question:

Level Four: My research answers a personal question about the topic, and contains information that may be of use to decision-makers as they make policy or distribute funds. The result of my research is a well support conclusion that contains a call for action on the part of an organization or government body. There will be a plan to distribute this information.
Primary example: How can our school help stop the growth in unwanted and abandoned animals in our community?
Secondary example: How might high schools change their curricula to meet the needs of students wanting a career in manufacturing in Minnesota?

Think about the motivation of adolescents who work at finding the answer to the above question.

Johnson linked to a post he wrote back in 1999 characteristics of excellent projects. Here is a summary:

  1. Motivational research projects have a clarity of purpose and expectations.
  2. Motivational research projects give students choices.
  3. Motivational research projects are relevant to the student’s life.
  4. Motivational research projects stress higher level thinking skills and creativity.
  5. Motivational research projects answer real questions.
  6. Motivational research projects involve a variety of information finding activities.
  7. Motivational learning tends to be hands-on.
  8. The use of technology can be exciting for many students.
  9. Good projects often use formats that use multiple senses.
  10. Interesting projects are often complex, but are broken into manageable steps.
  11. Collaborative learning is often stimulating and results in better products than individual work.
  12. Motivational research projects have results that are shared with people who care and respond.
  13. Learning that is assessed by an authentic tool is more meaningful that a paper and pencil test.
  14. Samples and examples give the learner a clear idea of what quality work looks like.
  15. Well-designed projects allow the learner to reflect, revisit, revise, and improve their final projects.
  16. Teachers and media specialists who enjoy authentic, project-based learning are comfortable with a loss of control over time, the final product, and “correct” answers.
  17. These teachers and media specialists accept active students rather than passive students.
  18. The professional’s belief that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of high performance is critical.
  19. Like media specialists, teachers who do exciting projects recognize that their expertise in the learning and research process rather than in any particular subject area.
  20. Teacher enthusiasm becomes more important than ever.
  21. Teachers and media specialists who work on these kinds of project know that they don’t always work the first time.
Keep these in mind as you design projects for your students. In Johnsons's post he elaborates on these points with examples. You can also get more information about quality research projects by accessing our board's resources: Imagine the Learning, Research Success@ your library (see page 23 and 24 of the link for ordering info) and our new Research web page that you can access here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning to Blog

I haven't posted for a bit - I've been busy posting on the book discussion blog that a group of us started as a way of developing a professional learning group over the summer.

Right now, I am in Will Richardson's session on blogging that's being held during the Vision to Practice conference by the Greater Essex County DSB in Windsor, ON, Canada. Will is working with teachers new to blogging.

It's interesting as I sit back and listen to the discussions and concerns. It's evident to me that the message that social networking is a dangerous thing is very strong and that many teachers are not aware of the message that networking through the read/write web can be a very powerful learning tool that can motivate and engage students. Will showed us Anne Davis' blog post Rationale for Educational Blogging where she lists a number of reasons why blogging is pedagogically sound. She says,
There are many skills and concepts that need to be addressed to effectively help teachers learn to use blogs throughout their curriculum to foster these new literacies. It is not just a matter of transferring classroom writing into digital spaces. Teachers need to address writing for a public audience, how to cite and link and why, how to use the comment tool in pedagogical ways, how to read web materials more efficiently as well as explore other ways to consider pedagogical uses of blogs. Blogging requires us to teach students to critically engage media. Students need instruction on how to become efficient navigators in these digital spaces where they will be obtaining a majority of their information.

She writes about new literacies and I think that this is important. I think that we are in real danger of narrowly defining what literacy is. Literacy is not just a highly publicized score on a standardized test. In the quote above, Davis defines other literacy skills that are not part of these tests but are certainly part of what it means to be literate in the 21st century. And we know that what gets tested gets taught. So how do kids get proficient with 21st century literacies if we don't value them enough to place them within our curriculum or our testing systems? The reality is that blogs, wikis, rss, text messaging and social networking sites are part of the daily literacies of our students. If we don't teach them how to navigate and ethically use these technology who will?

If you want to know more about 21st century skills check this out here. There are lots of links on this site that will lead to articles that examine what it means to be literate in the 21st century and the types of skills that we need to foster in our students so that they will be prepared for a world that is totally different then the one for which we were prepared.

We had almost 50 teachers attend Will's 2 sessions. I am excited to see teachers at both secondary and elementary extending their learning by becoming familiar with blogs.

Here are 2 sources for more information on blogging that Will shared:

Support Blogging

Weblogs in Schools

Happy Blogging!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Online Book Club for Professional Development

At the end of the year, I offered the opportunity to the English Department Heads in my board to participate in an online book discussion over the summer. I set up a blog to facilitate the discussion and offered to contribute to the cost of the book. I had 3 teachers who were interested and this past week we began our discussion. So far, so good.

One of the things that Will Richardson says about the read/write web is that teachers must use the technology and become comfortable with it before they use it with students. This blog will provide a vehicle for 3 teachers to become comfortable and see the ways they can apply it in their classrooms next year. I'm hoping to expand this and have more teachers involved next time.

Our blog is called Adolescent Literacy. Drop in some time and feel free to comment.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Trojan Women

So much to write about, so little time. Here's my impressions about the Stratford play Trojan Women.

I didn't plan on seeing this play. My husband and I had an early dinner and were walking along the river admiring the swans and laughing at the antics of the ducks. We wandered into the Festival Theatre to see what was playing that evening. I think it was Romeo and Juliet. We saw this play before at Stratford and although each staging is different, we really weren't interested in seeing it again. The ticket seller suggested that we walk down to the Tom Patterson Theatre and check out The Trojan Women. She said that it was a short play and that we could get rush seat prices for it. So that's what we did. We'd never been to the Tom Patterson before. It is a small theatre with seating on 3 sides of the stage so the audience is quite close to the action.

The Trojan Women

This play, written by Euipedes, takes place right after the defeat of Troy by the Greeks. Here's the story (taken from the program):

After 10 years of siege, Troy has fallen to the Greeks. Outraged by the desecration of her temples, the goddess Athena persuades the god Poseidon to help her harass the conquerors on their journey home. Meanwhile Hecuba, Andromache and the other women of Troy grieve for their husbands, their children and their home. Now the property of their captors, they are destined to become either slaves or concubines, and Hecuba is desperate to learn the fate of her two daughters, Polyxena and Cassandra. As the day wears on, Cassandra arrives in a state of frenzy, uttering dark prophecies of the misfortunes awaiting the Greeks on their return home. the Greek herald, Talthybius, bring terrible news for Amdromache, and King Menelaus reclaims his wife, Helen, whose actions provoked the war. The women's anguish reaches fever pitch as they prepare to be taken away to endure their new lives in Greece.

Women are so often absent from history - most history is the history of men. This play takes us beyond the history of the Trojan war itself and into the aftermath when all the men are dead and the women are left to pick up the pieces and deal with the consequences. Euripides wrote this play thousands of years ago, yet here we are in the 21st century and women are still picking up the pieces and dealing with the consequences of war. We don't often think beyond what is displayed in our media about war - war is still mainly a male event characterized by soldier deaths and collateral damage (such a sterile term for death of civilians). We have brief glimpses into what happens to some women but usually it is just a line or 2 in a history book or a 30 second sound bite. So when I think about this play, my main reaction is that is refreshing to see history from a female perspective. Apparently, Euripedes was know for his strong women characters and this play was full of strong women whose perspective in this play was not a positive one.

I was surprised at the way Helen was portrayed - as a manipulative, selfish creature who was despised by the Trojan women. In many versions of this story that I have read, I have not seen her portrayed in this manner - usually it was Paris who was shown as weak, selfish and unconcerned by others' needs except his own.

This was the first Greek play that I've attended. I don't remember reading one or studying one in school. One of the drama teachers at my former school did some work with her students on Greek plays and I remember that one of the things that her students had the find out about was the purpose of the chorus in Greek plays. Now I understand what this is. In this play, some lines are spoken 'in chorus' by the actors on the stage.

I'm glad that we decided to see it. I'm not sure that I would go to Stratford just to see this play but it was certainly more entertaining than going to a bar/cafe or back to the hotel room to watch TV.