Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From student to teacher - a new idea!

My mum is a teacher and this evening she was telling me about a holiday homework task she is setting her kids. They have to design a dinner menu and then make it for their family. They take pictures of their dinners and write a report to accompany the menu.

My immediate response was, 'see if you had a blog site the kids could upload their projects onto it and then they would have a virtual recipe book that they could share!'.

It was a passing comment but one that got us thinking. Mum's response was, 'that's a great idea, why don't you come in and help the class set up a blog site.' A week or two ago I would have shied away from the idea, but I think this would be a really meaningful way of putting my project into action.

Although I have only had 20mins or so to think about this idea my initial plan looks something like this:

- spend some time with the whole class explaining what a blog site is and how we can use them
- show them how to log in and make a post
- work with a small group of 'experts' - 2-3 students who I can work with setting up the blog site. They can be the ones who are responsible for maintaining the site (in conjunction with mum as the teacher) - and they will also be able to help other students who have problems/questions. I think I will also stay on in some capacity so that I can provide assistance were it is needed.

This links into ideas I was having earlier in the evening about seeing if I can set up a blog site with the class on my next placement (if they don't already have one). I think it would be a great way of transferring the skills/knowledge that I have learned on to others.

It's been an exciting day and incredible to see the way the inquiry project works. Yesterday I was feeling rather despondent and unsure of where I was going with the project. Today I am 'buzzing' with excitement about potential possibilities and meaningful outcomes.

Why I Blog with Kids

I have had a number of people asking about my project over the past few weeks. My mother over the dinner table, colleagues at my part-time job, students on my course, my grandad visiting town for the day. A response that I have been confronted with after announcing my topic has been, 'what's the point?', 'where is the learning in this'. This question has been thrown at me before I have had a chance to fully explain what blogging is, and to justify my project and the exciting possibilities technologies like this offer us as teachers. But, all the same, it's a common gut reaction....and this has me thinking about why people react in this way, and what we can do to counter these reactions.

Tackling the 'why' is beyond the scope of any single project. This issue is linked to broader fears within society about technology, changing forms of literacy, a fear of losing the 'fundamentals' of education to the 'whim' of passing technologies. I could go on but I won't.

However, what I do think is valuable (well crucial really as classroom teachers using this technology) is to know the reasons why we have chosen to use blogs, and to have tangile learning outcomes and skills that we can describe to parents.

I came across the following blog which I thought was useful in terms of addressing this issue: 'Why I Blog with Kids'

This blog provides a very simple but powerful outline of the benefits of using blogs in the classroom. I found this blog particularly meaningful because it wasn't written by an academic or education specialist, but by a classroom teacher. This is one classroom teacher's response to 'why do you get the students to blog?'. I hope that you too find it useful in your teaching.

Running and Creativity

I went for a really good 5km run this morning before starting on my Inquiry for the day. I know this might not seem that related to my project, but it got me thinking......

Running always helps me clear my head, whether to give me time to think through things, or simply allowing me to switch off for 30mins or so.

I did a really good time for my run today and found myself 'buzzing' by the time I got home. My energy levels were high (despite the fact that I had spent the previous 30mins doing something pretty physically demanding).

Where did all this get me.....

Well it got me thinking about the benefits of cardio exercise like running in terms of creativity. Part of this inquiry process is learning how you work best, what motivates you, what distracts you, when do you when work best, when are you best to not even try and give in to distractions, what energises you.

So I did some research on the benefits of running in terms of creativity and came across some interesting websites:

According to this site there seems to be much debate about whether running actually enhances creativity. But irrespective of definitive conclusions there appears to be evidence to support the claim. According to 'The Runner’s World Guide to Running' running ‘helps you to reach creative breakthroughs’ (p.25). Psychological research has found that bodily movement can enhance creative thinking. This supports the belief held by many men and women that going for a run can help them problem solve and overcome mental blocks.

I found another interesting article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: 'Exercise enhances creativity independently of mood'
This research article concluded that mood and creativity were improved by physical exercise independently of each other. I guess confirming that when you hit a road block during the research process, a run could be the most beneficial way of moving forward (no pun intended!).

Bud's Blog Experiment

I came across this interesting blogsite this afternoon:

Bud's Blog Experiment:

It was referred to in the 'Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms' that I am reading as part of this project.

Basically the blog is about the journey that he took with his students to implement blogs in their classroom. Reading this was very useful, both in terms of my own reflexive blogging journey at the moment, but also in being able to see the way in which creating a classroom blog can be a joint journey with your students. This was exciting as it shifts away from the common preconception that you have to be an expert in blogs to set one up in your class. Reading through the blog gave me an increased sense of the powerful learning that can take place in the classroom through this journey.

I have taken out some of the quotes that I found particularly thought provoking/powerful:

"An online journal is somewhere someone posts their thoughts when they hope that someone will see them. A blog is where someone posts their thoughts when they hope that someone will think about them."
(Comment made by one of the students in the class)

"What I have noticed in my own blog is that I blog less when I don't have/take the time to read other blogs. That is what has been going on for the last few weeks. So it isn't the habit of writing in my blog that is concerning me but the habit of reading. I need to make more time for that. When I do, the blogging comes naturally."
(Comment made by one of the students in the class)

And this quote which I think in challenging in terms of our teaching philosophies and questions of the purpose and value in education:

"And I know not every student was born to be a blogger. But, I would argue that every student, every person was born to be a contributor, whether that's via blog or wiki or podcast or whatever. We need to create a culture of contribution in our schools where our students' work is non only celebrated but put to use in meaningful ways. Don't just e-value-ate what they do but provide ways for what they do to have long lasting value."

Interview with Paul Sibson - Principal of Fendalton Open Air School

I have been preparing this morning for my interview tomorrow with the principal of Fendalton School. I thought it would post my interview questions here - especially as it will be interesting to re-assess my questions after the interview has taken place to see which ones I used/didn't use; which ones led to the most interesting discussions etc:

1) Can you briefly outline the relationship between teaching/learning and interactive technologies (like blogging) in your school?

2) What do you see as the advantages of integrating these technologies into teaching pedagogy?

3) Digital literacy is a phrase that is commonly used in education today. Can you tell me what this phrase means to you?

4) I know new technologies like blogging sometimes get negative responses from people as a ‘lesser’ form of literacy, or fears that they are replacing the ‘fundamentals’ of education. Have you come across these fears in parents? And if so, how do you respond?

5) What has the response of parents been to the use of these technologies in the classroom?

6) Technologies like blogging extend learning beyond the classroom. Can you think of any particularly exciting connections that have resulted from using these technologies in your school?

7) Internet safety is a serious issue to consider when using these technologies. Could you very briefly explain the school’s policy/practices that address these issues?

8) I spent some time on the FOS website and saw that you also have your own blog site as principal. Could you tell me a bit about this site: why you decided to set it up, what the advantages have been of having a blog, who uses it etc.?

9) When a student leaves Fendalton School at the end of Year 6, what do you hope you have equipped them with as a result of their interaction with digital technologies?

10) What would be your advice to a beginner teacher who wanted to use a blog in the classroom but had no prior experience in using/creating them?

I am not sure how I am going to record this interview - I will probably either record it on my laptop using garageband, or use my digital voice recorder. Using garage band will allow me to edit it on my mac which would be a real advantage.

Meeting – 16th June – Mentor Meeting

These are the notes from our mentor group meeting yesterday:

In many ways the inquiry model is a recursive model. We need to keep going back and checking things. It all feels immersive in many ways but this is also the ‘how will I find out’. At the moment we are benefiting across the process sharing in the mentor groups.

Importance of the sense of wonderment – I don’t feel like I am getting this feeling in my project at the moment - but hopefully my time at Fendalton School will help with this.

Create it and Share it stages: This is where we should be now.
Create it = creating the website – this is now I want to share my research with the class by creating a website which provides teachers with a ‘how to’ on creating blog sites. It will be organised under a series of categories including a step-by-step guide to creating a blog; what are the advantages of blogs; experts; what are the new forms of literacy that blogs promote etc. This is also an effective way of sharing with people who are not ‘experts’ and allowing them the time to go through in their own time and at their own pace. My actual presentation will just be to set this up and show them how to navigate the website etc.

Presentation formats – see student-net page to see what kinds of things we could use. If powerpoint included – can only use versions up to 2003 and save in this format from the beginning. 20-25mins.

Check out the hub set-up in terms of using for my presentation etc. And also sort out with AV services whether they have a video camera that I can use. (I went and visited and there was no one there - so I am going to use the inbuilt camera in my laptop and a digital voice recorder)

Check out the tasks that we need to for this week – see student-net.

Think about what we want to take out of this and share. Your presentation format may be a method that you want to practice.

Another model of inquiry

I came across this model of inquiry on Fendalton Open Air School's website and wanted to share it as I found this outline more useful than the blast off to learning one that we have been using in class. I liked the way in which the model was arranged in a way that was that demonstrated the fact that it was non-linear.

Monday, June 15, 2009

what are students thinking.......

I found this on a blogsite ( It was a quote that was taken from David Warlick). It helped me in relation to my developing ideas on the way students interact with technology, and my arguments for why technology needs to be de-demonised.

"If you have children, who spend a good deal of their time IMing, playing video games, blogging, googling, or other negotiations with technology, put yourselves in their shoes and ask yourself this question. Is it the computer, the game controller, the mobile phone, or PDA that I'm thinking about? or is it the information, the conversation, the negotiation that I'm thinking about. I say it's the conversations, the information. Information is what its all about."

I think that if we approach interactions with technology from this angle, with a focus on the processes that students go though, then not only will it let us see the usage of these technologies in new and more positive ways, but it will also assist us as teachers in our understandings of the skills and scaffolds that we need to be providing our students when we use these technologies in the classroom.

"Connective Writing" - A New Writing Genre

I have decided to try a new form of blogging this week.

One of the books I have been reading, 'Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms' (Richardson, 2006) (see ref list on blog page), has outlined a new writing genre called "connective writing" which blogsites facilitate.

According to the Richardson (2006), this new genre "forces those who do it to read carefully and critically, demands clarity and cogency in its constructions, that is done for a wide audience, and that links to the sources of the ideas expressed." (p. 29)

Connective writing is for the most part, expository writing, but the process starts with reading. Afterall, weblogs originated as sites where people shared links to sites they had viewed and read. In undertaking this form of writing, bloggers read critically because they look for important ideas to write about. As Samuel Johnson famously said, "I hate to read a writer who has written more than he had read."

Some elements of this will be difficult, by virtue of the fact that this blog site is also functioning as my reflective journal for this course, and therefore there are some requirements that need to be fulfilled that may not be connective writing, but whereever possible I will attempt to write in this genre, and provide reflections during the week on how I am finding the process and a learning tool. I am excited about the ways in which it allows to me make and share connections I am making in my research, and provides ways of linking my 'deviations' back to my journey.

What will collaborative technologies mean when our students enter the world of tertiary education?

Although my project is looking at the use of blogs in primary classrooms I keep coming back to the question of what this means for students when they enter tertiary education with its strong reliance on transmission style learning (a constant source of debate between me and my profs).....and then I came across this article:

The full article can be found on The Edge site (scroll down a bit on the homepage and you will find it)

In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards

Another article in the New York Times got me thinking about the various ways in which blogs can and are being used in the classrooom:

I found this article especially relevant given that it was about a 2nd grade class.

I have drawn out a few of the most interesting ideas expressed in this article....

"School Web sites are labor-intensive and are left up to administrators and teachers," said Mr. Grunwald, whose consulting firm in Washington focuses on the technology link between home and school. "With blogging intended to be a vehicle for students, the labor is built in. The work that is required to refresh and maintain an interesting blog is being provided by students."

Mr Gunwald predicts that blogs will eventually become a more successful teaching tool than Web sites.

One way teachers say they use blogs is to continue spirited discussions that were cut short or to prolong question-and-answer periods with guest speakers.

"With blogs, class doesn't have to end when the bell rings," said Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., who maintained blogs for two journalism classes he taught last year.

It is exciting to think that blogs allow for the expansion of the learning space beyond the classroom door.

Blogs, Podcasts and Virtual Classrooms

I found this an interesting article in terms of the kinds of things that classroom teachers are doing in the US in terms of using blogs. It was interesting to see the arising conflict between collaborative learning and testing......

"If interactivity becomes the fundamental basis of the educational process, how do we judge merit?" asked Robbie McClintock, a learning technologies expert at Teachers College of Columbia University.

The push by some teachers for greater interactivity in the classroom also goes against the current emphasis on testing. Testing requires a known body of material, but interactive learning often involves students' seeking out topics on their own.

Fortunately we don't have the same pressure in NZ primary schools in terms of testing and therefore have greater freedom to use these kinds of collaborative technologies. However, I think it is important to think through the possible concerns you may get from parents about the use of these technologies. It is important to involve parents in the process, and to have a strong set of beliefs and justifications for why you are using these technologies and new forms of literacy in your classroom.

Monday Morning - Week 3

It's scary to think that I have already had 2 weeks on this project. In many ways I feel like I haven't got that far with things. I seem to keep hitting road blocks, or deviations which take up valuable time needed to get me to my final outcome. I took a break over the weekend which I think was helpful for giving me perspective on this project and what is achievable in the time I have.
So.....I am approaching this week with a new attitude. I have learned a few things on reflection so far:
a) it's very easy to take the project vision beyond what it achievable in 5 weeks
b) it is harder to re-focus and make decisions about what 'can' be achieved, especially when you feel like you are having to let go of some of the research 'excitements' in the process
c) roadblocks are all part of inquiry - and some of the best reflecting takes place at these moments when you have to make decisions about 'where to from here?'
d) Inquiry is definitely not a linear process and this can be both frustrating and liberating in terms of the research process
e) Making a list of things to do each day helps me stay focussed and feel like I am getting somewhere (reflecting at the end of the day can help with this too)
f) Some days are frustrating, some days you feel like you have got nowhere, or gone backwards. This is all part of the journey, and tomorrow is always a new day. Learn from it, but don't dwell on it too much.

So this week.....what are my plans?

I would like to continue with my literature reviews/research of blog use in classrooms to gather information to use in my website which I will be building next week. I am unsure at this stage what the different sections will be - but I am trying to keep it open at the moment and just see how much is possible.

I am spending Thursday afternoon at Fendalton school speaking with the Principal and spending time in a classroom talking with students about their class blog site. This is the highlight of this week as it will allow me to see in practice the things I have been reading and thinking about.

I am hoping by the end of the week that I will have had a meeting with one of the profs at tcol about setting up a website. I have spoken with a few different people about different servers that I could use, and just need to see which will best suit my minimal skills and time constraints.

Sunday, June 14, 2009