Thursday, June 11, 2009

Frustrating Day - Have I Bitten Off More Than I Can Chew?

Today has been a frustrating day. I spent a large part of the morning trying to get back into the website I created yesterday. But for some reason I can't get into it - the username and passwords don't work. It got me thinking that I need to be really careful with the site that I do create because I can't afford for this to happen once my site is actually taking shape.
I'm worried that I may be taking on too much by assuming that I can create a website in the next two weeks with absolutely no prior knowledge of how to go about it.
I have heard back from Niki and am going to catch up with her once she is back in the country to get some assistance with a website. new plan of attack is not to worry about the website for the next week and just concentrate on collecting information to put on my site and maintaining my blog. Then at the end of next week I can see Niki and make a decision about where to go from there. She has suggested that a WIKI might be the best option for sharing my research - so I will look into this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inquiry it just a 'fad'?

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about Inquiry-based approaches to learning. In trying to get a hold of what it is, I have also been frequently faced with questions.

- Is it really anything new?
- Isn't this just a new 'fad' and 'buzz-word' that will be replaced by something else in a few years?
- Haven't I done inquiry before (we just didn't call it that)?
- Isn't most of inquiry just 'good teaching'?

I have also been talking to other people in the education world about it (lecturers, teachers, students, parents) and trying to get a sense of how they feel about it.

It seems to me that it's not really a 'new' approach to learning. In fact people like Dewy advocated for this type of approach to learning. So I think there is a danger in seeing it as something 'new' and potentially dismissing the multiple ways in which many classroom teachers are already using it in their classroom. Having said that, it does seem to provide an alternative to the highly structured and linear models of teaching that have remained dominant in many spheres within education.

Is it exciting? Absolutely. In my opinion, successful and inspiring teachers should be ones who do many of the things that Inquiry involves in their daily practices e.g. meaningful questioning, exploring, creating meaningful contexts for learning, allowing students to make linkages to the world around them and creating meaningful outcomes to their research. I have always believed that learning is a process not a means to an ends, and therefore an inquiry approach is very exciting. It is liberating as an almost-teacher to think that I can approach teaching in a non-linear way that is both student-centred and student-directed (while also maintaining guidance and support/scaffolding as a teacher).

I think that part of the problem with the taking up of this approach seems to be the 'label'. As soon as we label something in a new way, people make the assumption that it is something new. The cynic in me also starts to wonder whether it's just a short-term policy buzz-word, soon to be replaced by something bigger and better. I don't want inquiry to be 'sold' to me (and the monetary off-spins of Inquiry can't be denied). I want to embrace the concept as part of my teaching philosophy that will remain with me in the classroom right through my career. I don't really mind what it is called, and what particular model is used (in fact I think that ultimately we create new models to meet the changing needs of our students) - so long as I allow my students opportunities to learn in this way.

Setting up my website...

Today I have been working on setting up my website. I have decided that the best way for me to share my learnings from my project is by creating a website that can provide information on blogs for teachers who are 'digital immigrants'.

My blog is functioning well as a reflective journaling space, and I am finding it quite a cathartic part of the journey. However, I have decided that a web-site would be a more suitable way of sharing my information with the class.

What is the website going to look like?

Well.....I have found a server for my site and have a web address:

This was obstacle number 1 to overcome, as I have never set up a website before (and have no prior knowledge on how to go about it). So.....I searched online and found a free server and worked through the initial setup steps.

Now it is a matter of deciding what to include on this website.

I did an initial brainstorm of ideas for sections within the website:

- What is a blog?
- Why use blogs in the classroom? (how can they enhance teaching pedagogy)?
- How to set up your own classroom blog?
- Links to useful websites
- 10 ways you can use your blog in the classroom
- Digital Literacy
- De-demonising technology
- 'Experts in Action' - Case Study - Fendalton Open Air School
- Integrating blogs with other technology - youtube, videos etc.
- Other useful references
- Link to my blog
- Internet safety/security
- MOE and ICT - policy
- Blogs and collaboration (taking learning beyond the classroom)
- Blogs and the Key Competencies

I am going to share these ideas at the mentor group meeting next week. I would like to get feedback on my proposed sections because ultimately I am making it for the class, so I want to meet their perceived needs in terms of blogging.

At this stage I am not planning on progressing any further with the website until I have started collecting and organising my research into sections. I envisage starting on the making of the website in about a week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mentor Group Meeting - Week 2

Today we met up to share our progress on inquiry topics. It was interesting to see where other people were at, and to realise that many of my frustrations were shared by other group members.
I am still struggling to fully understand the inquiry process because it doesn't seem dissimilar to other research processes I have been involved in. I guess this all part of the journey and it will be interesting to look back on the process and see how I got to the end.
I did struggle in the group sharing situation because I felt like by the time it got to my side of the table, most of our time had been used up, and I had a very rushed 2 minutes to share my project/frustrations/questions - and very little time to have feedback from the group - which I thought was the whole point of mentor groups. I am hoping that next week, we will all be provided more time for meaningful engagement with our topics.

Wonderings - end of Week 1

Here is a collection of my wonderings from week 1. I am planning on adding a new wonderings page each week. The pages will only include 'new' wonderings, however, I am sure many of the early wonderings will continue beyond the first weeks.

Monday, June 8, 2009


I have created a timetable outline of where I would like to be at certain points along the way. However, I also realise that the nature of Inquiry is such that things will constantly change and no doubt my timetable will look very different by the end of the 5 weeks.

The Inquiry Process - beginnings.....


In many ways the past year of study has been part of the immersion stage for me in this inquiry process. The immersion stage is characterised by grabbing attention and interest in an area for inquiry. My observations in the classroom while on placement, the curriculum classes I have taken, and the reading that I have done around different aspects of education have all contributed to my growing interest in the use of interactive technologies in the classroom.

In terms of immersion in this project, I have spent the past week trying to explore as many different avenues as possible in relation to the topic. I have spent a large part of the week looking at what is available online in terms of discussions relating to the use of blogs in the classroom. I have found using this medium very helpful as a large number of sites are different classroom teachers who are blogging about their own experiences. The other advantage of many of these sites is that other teachers post comments and feedback that develops an even richer source of information in terms of reflections/suggestions.

I am now moving into the brainstorming and ‘what do we want to know’ stages of the inquiry project. I am finding that there is a wealth of information that I have immersed myself in during this initial phase. But unless I move on I could be stuck in this stage forever, feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of information and directionless in terms of my project.


I have started thinking about what I want to find out.

What do I want my outcome to be? What are the questions that are going to guide my research? How am I going to use the information I have found? What ‘experts’ am I going to use? And how am I going to use them in my research? What is the relationship between my blog and the outcome of this project? Could my blog be part of the outcome or do I need something else as well? If there is so much information on using blogs in the classroom, how can my inquiry contribute to this area of research? What would be useful to share with my fellow colleagues in terms of an outcome? (this question is of vital importance, especially after reading the work of Dr Ross Todd (2003) who speaks about the process of “celebrating the understood”. We need to ask ourselves (and our students) “What are we being asked to do with the information we have found?” . Inquiry outcomes need to be meaningful and more than just a transmission of information “found”. I guess this has got me thinking about my ‘question(s)’. What is the problem or need that I am exploring in my inquiry project? And how can I create a meaningful outcome through my inquiry research?

I’m not really sure that I have answers to these questions – but they will form useful starting points for discussions in my mentor groups tomorrow. I would usually try and find my research questions very early in the research process. But I am learning that with an inquiry approach it is ok to spend more time exploring different possibilities and viewing research as a more fluid process which is guided and shaped by the process itself rather than by predetermined questions to answer that are set at the beginning of the project.

I have also been linking this to thinking about how inquiry would play out in the classroom. In the same way that I am allowing myself time to explore different avenues within my topic, I also need to be aware of giving students time to do this in the classroom. I think we were brought up in an environment where teachers needed to be in control of the direction of work at all times, and it is scary to think that during the inquiry project we are guides, but that we need to be willing to allow students to take their research in a direction that may be different from our own. As Trevor Bond emphasises, inquiry learning is about developing independent learners. Doing this requires something quite different of a teacher. In many ways we move away from needing to someone with content-knowledge, to someone with process-knowledge. With the ability to help scaffold students in their learning to meet the outcomes they wish to produce. For example, rather than knowing everything about dinosaurs we can possess the skills in library research or creating a Powerpoint or short movie to present their research findings.

What Do We Want to Know?

Once I have brainstormed all the different ideas of ways of undertaking this research, questions I would like to explore, people I would like to speak to, outcomes I would like to produce. Then I need to focus my research by developing a set of key questions to guide my research. I have been doing some reading on questioning within the Inquiry process and now realise how fundamental this stage is to the whole process. Questions need to be carefully structured so that they are:

- succinct
- focused (on the topic of inquiry)
- open-ended
- non-judgemental
- emotive
- intellectually rigorous

Although the questions guide the research process they are not so prescriptive that they restrict the direction that the inquiry can take. Students are still encouraged to approach the questions from different angles and see their topic in as many ways as possible.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Seeking 'experts'.....

Last week I started exploring avenues for finding 'experts' - primary classrooms that are using blogs as part of their teaching programme.

I have a few people that I have made initial contact with (and am still waiting to hear back from) - I'm unsure how many classrooms I would like to visit as part of this project, I guess I'll just have to see what is feasible in the time that I have.

But one certainty is a classroom at Fendalton Open Air school. Fendalton has a reputation as a school which values ICT integration in pedagogical practice. Here is a link to an article that was published in March this year on their innovative approach to the use of technology:

I am excited to have the opportunity to see the way this school is integrating the technology into their classrooms.

I have been looking at a few lists of NZ classroom blog sites. One thing that has interested me has been the high number of rural schools that are listed. I was starting to wonder about the ways in which technology like blogs creates a new connectedness for these schools - and the possibilities for online partnerships and collaboration between schools. I guess when I was growing up you had things like pen-pals and school exchanges; these possibilities seem only to increase exponentially through online communication.

Another interesting area to explore (which is also beyond the scope of this project - but something to think about and be aware of while doing my research) - is the way in which blog sites allow for a high level of reflexivity about who we are 'as a person, as a classroom, as a school, as a community?' - what do the blogs that we create say about who we are? How can blogs be used to create a sense of identity, a sense of place? Maybe it's just that I am a cultural geographer and therefore questions about place and identity fascinate me, but it is something interesting to think about. We are active creators in the process of blogging? How do we decide what to include/what to exclude? How are we present in our blog? How do we interact with the world around us through the blog? What to we want people to think of us in our blog? So many questions........I'm not really wanting to answer these - but will try and provide a space in which to continue developing my thinking around these ideas over the next few weeks.

Learning is messy......

I came across this quote........

"learning is messy....but Digital Texts change things.
Students will edit more, link more,
seek more sources, be reflective,
read each others work, comment more,
question more, and challenge each other."

This is one of the main reasons why I am excited by the possibilities that interactive technologies like blogs give us in terms of teaching pedagogy. My developing philosophy is one in which collaboration and communities of learning are of central importance; as is seeing students as 'global citizens' who critically engage with the world around them.

Blogs offer this - they also offer it in a space where students can interact in a way which means that they can add/delete/edit/move around/modify their work. From what I have observed in my two teaching placements, when there is less permanency in what students are creating (or perhaps more than this, the ability to 'modify' what they are creating) - there appears to be a greater level of risk-taking and creativity present in their work. They learn through the process of creating, without a fear that each mark they make along the way will remain visible and unable to be erased.

Check out this powerpoint presentation which explores some of these ideas about ICT integration in classroom as part of teaching in the 21st century:

“the use of blogs to learn not just to teach”

I came across this and thought that I would post it because it seemed to be exploring a lot of the questions that I am also wanting to explore through my inquiry project. I am hoping that it will help me in my research focus......

Will Richardson’s post Teacher Bloggers Not Blogging (Says Me) looks at the David Warlick article in EDTECH titled Blog Rules.

Will says:

“Blogs are powerful communication tools. Blogs are powerful publishing tools. But blogging (the verb) is still much more than that to me. Blogging, as in reading and thinking and reflecting and then writing, is connecting and learning, neither of which are discussed in the article. (And maybe they weren’t meant to be, I know) I’m not knocking what Tim or his teachers are doing, I think it’s great. But I’m just asking the question: how are his teachers modeling the use of blogs to learn not just to teach?”

I have been looking beyond just blogs and considering the use of technology ‘to learn not just to teach’ quite a bit recently. Is it a natural progression to use technology to teach first then to learn, as we integrate new technology? Or is this just a lack of training and professional development? I’ve heard more than a few people call the new Smart Boards nothing more than glorified blackboards recently, (I have yet to actually even see one of these, much less know how teachers/students are using them, so I am really just making note of what others have told me). The fact is that technology such as this needs the user to be trained. How can we implement new things in new ways if we lack the knowledge or training to do so? Also, I think teachers must model what they expect, or at least find appropriate models for students to follow. A blog that replaces a daily diary may be useful, but does it expose a student to the potential a blog has as a reflective, synthesizing, learning space?

On the topic of blogs, I have been thinking about what this blog means to me. I write it as if I have an audience, but I write it for me, not the audience. It is sort of a cathartic expression of my thoughts on education; A place to synthesize ideas and reflect on new areas of exploration. I am surprised just how often I look back at my entries, reread them and follow the links. It has also been an experimental playground where I have learned a bit about html, and figured out how to add tools, such as the meebo messenger, the ClustrMap, as well as the flikr and bubbleshare photo windows. This blog isn’t about my practice as an educator but it certainly affects my practice. It is a learning tool.

I am developing some ideas about using wikis and blogs in my Science class next month. As I develop the plan, I need to ask myself:

‘Am I adding technology to my teaching or providing students with new learning and new ways to learn?’

‘Am I creating an environment where students will express, synthesize, and reflect on their (and each other’s) learning, or am I creating a new way to report out?’ (A glorified poster board).

‘Am I encouraging students to be lifelong learners?’

What else should I be asking myself?

Blogs on Educational blogging

I have been exploring different websites and blogs online that relate to my topic and may provide me with useful examples of ways teachers are using blogs in the classroom/or broader academic research on the value of blogs in the classroom.

I have listed some of them here: - this is a site which has a large list of sites on using blogs in the classroom - blogging pedagogy - improving education through the use of blogs - learn to blog, blog to learn - using blogs in the classroom - a blog where teachers are sharing the way they are using them in their classes.

I am starting to realise that there is a vast amount of information on the web about classroom blogging. What is now important is to start developing questions that will help focus my research so that I don't get overwhelmed with all the information that is out there. I will also start using these websites/blogs to focus my questions for going into the classroom to speak with teachers and students who are using blogs.