April 2008


I just finished my most recent chat with a student who was asked to leave the room by their teacher. The conversation started out much the same as they usually do.

Student: I don’t know why I got sent out of the room.

Student: I didn’t do anything but talk to _______(fill in the blank) across the room.

You know how these conversations go. Well, this time I couldn’t help myself. I continued his dialogue for him because I think I’ve only heard it 5 or 6 hundred times. In a lightbulb moment I decided , along with our secretary’s help, that a checklist would be in order. That way the student could check off the injustices and be one step ahead before they got to the office.

Please Take to The Office:

Check all that apply:

1.    I don’t know why I was sent out of the room.
2.    I didn’t do anything.
3.    I didn’t say anything.
4.    It’s not fair.
5.    The teacher’s picking on me.
6.    He/she’s just trying to get me in trouble.
7.    They threw it first.
8.    Why am I the only one who ever gets in trouble?
9.    Why did I get sent out and they didn’t?
10.    I was only________________(fill in the blank).
11.    I was just answering the question!
12.    Other:

Oh the things that one gets up to with just a little bit of extra time. Might have to use it one day for a giggle with the grade eight students. Hope you get a bit of a laught out of this.

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Now What?

Okay, I can admit when I have a problem but I find it a little easier to live in denial. I keep telling myself it’s been good for me because my learning curve has been massive. I’m networked around the globe with teachers who are incorporating technology throughout their teaching practice. My network is also available for assistance, resources and support. I use Twitter frequently to stay in touch with my network. I use weblogs as a host for my professional blog and use bloglines to subscribe to blogs about the use of technology in the classroom. I’m even starting to introduce more Web 2.0 tools such as VoiceThread and JumpCut to my students. Am I now pushing technology for Couros? It’s spiraling out of control and affecting my work.

What’s the Future Hold?

I’m currently moving all of the unit plans, lessons, resources and assignments for all subject areas to wikispaces. I’m also planning a collaborative Holocaust project for the fall. I’m also designing a global collaborative project based on the environment and global issues. I hope that the global issue project will run throughout the school year engaging many students. I’ve started a class blog with our grade 2&3 teacher. I’ve also connected her with other blogging partners to collaborative with students in Tokyo and Quebec.

Thank goodness Rob Wall has started a twelve step program for EC&I 831 alumnus. Rob’s calling it Sk. Educators for Learning with Technology Enhanced Resources (Skelter) but I think it’s really a support group for all of us who will be going through withdrawal now that EC&I supply line has dried up. If you’re like me you’ll need to visit regularly as we wean ourselves off Couros’ little web treats. Now, don’t tell anyone but I’ll keep scanning for the next class Couros teaches. I’ll try to be a bit more careful next time I’ll look for a hidden agenda but anything can happen.

Hi, my name is Kimberly and I’m an addict.

Not of the drug, alcohol or gambling type but of technology and Web 2.0. When we started our adventure called Education Curriculum & Instruction 831 in January 2008 I was a fairly regular grade 6 & 7 teacher who was using blogging in Language Arts, Social Studies & Science. I had begun using a class blog in February, 2007 and loved the learning potential I saw. I used classblogmeister because as the teacher I was able to moderate blog posts, comments and all content posted on the site. In the fall of 2007 I had started to use wikispaces to host some Science and Math activities. At the beginning of my class Alec Couros, my professor, started dishing out little tidbits of technology to us. He said start a blog, so I did. He suggested using Twitter, so I did. It was so innocent at first. I didn’t notice until it was too late that I was hooked. By this point Alec had us using the heavy stuff like Ustream, Skype and entering the dark recesses known as backchannelling.

At that point I couldn’t stop. I was using classblogmeister to publish writing, contact other classrooms, share thoughts and ideas with our blog partners. Wikispaces was being used for global collaborative projects, collaborative story writing, curriculum content, weekly math problems and literature circles. In January I also started a “Thinwalled Classroom” project with Connaught School in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada. Each Friday Jim Ellis and I alternated assigning writing assignments for our classrooms. I kept looking for more opportunities to feed my need of technology and keep the addiction going.

Each week as I settled onto my couch with my trusty laptop I looked forward to Tuesday evening’s guest speakers but I knew that it was affecting my family. Little did I know that Alec Couros had a master plan. Get all of the students hooked on his little web treats so that we would keep coming back for more. The weekly speakers challenged us to reach beyond our comfort zone and try new techniques, web tools and ideologies with our teaching but it also meant that we were moving up Couros’ supply chain and getting a little closer to Mr. Big. Some speakers also challenged us with their view of the world or their knowledge of technology. Our quest was to step up and try to embrace these new ideas. Our speakers provided insight, background and resources in such areas as integrated learning, connectivism, the classroom as a learning studio, global collaboration, inquiry based learning, system design and teaching with Web 2.0 tools. Our trip into Second Life was like giving us crack cocaine. We kept wanting more. Dare I say it? I think Couros is a pusher. A sneaky, technologically enhanced pusher.

Part 2 will discuss how I will overcome my addiction and move on. If you were in my class please comment and tell me how you’re going to deal with the pain of withdrawal.

Bob Greenberg in Connecticut sent this video out to a few educators last week. It’s a new twist on an old theme: Are we preparing our students for the future or are we teaching the same way we did fifty years ago? Every time I watch a video like this it makes me take pause and reflect on my teaching practice. It also makes me listen to the voice of Clarence Fisher in my head repeating over and over “Learning Studio.” Over the last two years I’ve made changes within my classroom to accommodate the diverse needs of my learners but also to accommodate the way I want to teach. I’ve added bean bag chairs, swivel style office chairs, stability balls and a beloved couch. I still have desks but they are separate from the chairs which allows for the variance in seating options. Next fall I’m doing away with desks and using tables. I’ll still have a few desks for those students who like to have their own space. You know…the students who like to be an island. But what I’m trying to do is to create an atmosphere for the students and myself to feel comfortable so that we can get onto the business of learning.

I’m certainly the odd duck in my school. My principal laughs when she comes into my classroom because I only use half of my lights because I think I’m lucky to have great windows. I’m the teacher the caretakers hate because my desks are never in rows and they have to work a bit harder to get my floor clean. My class also happens to be the class that spreads out around the school. You’ll see my students laying on the floor with computers in the hallway, sitting in a corner of the library, relaxing on a couch in the family room or sitting in a comfy chair by the school office. The students are generally engaged and on-task. Not to say that nothing ever goes awry but I think that could happen within the four walls of my classroom. I’ve created an atmosphere that my students and I are comfortable with but unfortunately it’s very difficult for others to get their head around. The one difficulty is when a substitute teacher is in my classroom and tries to micro-manage my class. The students are used to being very mobile, choosing where they work (I always have the final say if it doesn’t work out) and who they work with. The idea of choice is very difficult for a substitute teacher who finds it easier for all students to sit in rows, not move around, be working on the same task(substitute worksheet) and not interact as they work. So, what I’m saying is that that I’m constantly reflecting, plotting and planning changes in my classroom but I also appreciate that this isn’t everyone’s way.

It would be great to see classrooms change into “Learning Studios” and teachers to embrace change but that isn’t happening soon. So now what.? Do we just go on our merry way and become the islands in the middle of the school? Or do we encourage others to jump on the path with us? I’m not sure but I know that I’m happy in my own piece of the school and I wouldn’t change what I’m doing for anything.

Last week I posted a questionnaire about the use of blogging in the classroom. These questionnaires provide me with an opportunity to reflect on my classroom practices and how I use my classroom blog.

Questionnaire:
1. What grade(s) and subjects do you use your blog with?
Grade 6 & 7: Language Arts, Social Studies & Science
Grade 2 & 3: Language Arts

2. What online tools do you use to support your classroom blog? (Blogger, TypePad, Photobucket, Flickr, etc.)
Classblogmeister, RockYou, VoiceThread, JumpCut, TeacherTube, YouTube, Wikispaces

3. Why did you decide to use a blog as an educational tool? What did you hope it would do for your students and/or for you?
I attended a Middle Years Mini Conference in my school division where classblogmeister was profiled. I hoped that using a blog would encourage my students to become excited about writing and sharing their world.

4. How long have you been using a blog as an educational tool?
I began using a class blog in February 2007.

5. How do you use your classroom blog? (posting student work, information for parents, online writing tool, collaborative projects, etc.)
The students take turns posting a daily writing assignment, on Friday’s we write with a school in a different city then post on our blogs and we use it to post assignments from other subject areas.
I write information about what’s happening in our classroom for students & parents. As well, the students use the blog as a way to stay in touch with myself and each other over weekend and holidays.

6. If you use your blog for student writing, has their writing improved? Please explain?
I noticed a marked improvement in the students when they write on their blogs. The students become aware of their audience and begin to care about the feedback they receive from their comments. Student peers from other schools comment on the content of the blog postings, the effectiveness of the writing and also comment on mechanics. Our Friday writing is a shared writing project with another school in another city. The teacher from that school provides feedback to my students and I comment to his students. The students enjoy hearing from another teacher and appreciate his comments. I also explain to my students that because they have an audience they have a responsibility to write well for their readers

7. Please list 3 positives about using blogs in your teaching.
*Most students are highly motivated to write on their blogs each day.
*Students become aware of an audience and begin to write clearer with more detail.
*Parents are able to read what their children are writing about in class. The parents have a better idea what is happening in our classroom.

8. Please list 3 negatives about using blogs in your teaching.
* This is a tough one. I haven’t had any negatives yet.
*It was harder when I began because I didn’t have access to as many computers however, my school division purchased 10 new Mac laptops per school which made it easier to work online.
* At the beginning I wanted to edit the life out of each student’s writing because we were posting to the blog. I’ve let that go and allow their peers to comment on the writing. If the students don’t put as much effort into their assignment another student will comment on it.
* I needed to make time to approve and check all posts, comments and widgets for the blogs. Now it’s become part of my school day.

9. Please list 3 things you’ve changed in your teaching as a result of using a blog.
*I now think about and plan my teaching on a global scale. I consider our audience in other countries and plan some writing assignments that better explain where we live and our life here.
*I encourage parents to visit the blog frequently to keep them aware of what is happening in our class. I write information about class events and happenings. I don’t need to write notes home.
*I’ve added more Web 2.0 tools to my teaching. My goal is to create a paper reduced classroom by having the students use blogs and wikis for assignments, projects and writing.
10. Please list 3 things that youʼve kept the same.
* Daily writing assignments.
* Using the writing process: brainstorming, planning, writing a draft, editing & revising then the final draft on the blog. My grade sixes were very weak writers when they began the year and weren’t familiar with the writing process. They are beginning to become stronger writers.
*Having written assignments in other subject areas besides Language Arts.

11. If you use your blog with students, in what way(s) do you ensure their safety? (model proper behavior, pen names, no real names of people or places, etc.)
* I begin the year with a CyberSafety unit to discuss internet safety.
* I explain how classblogmeister works and that I, as the moderator, have final approval on everything that is posted.
* I have the students choose blog aliases. I also ask the students to refer to their classmates by their aliases in their writing.

Those are my answers. What would your responses look like? Different or the same? Aspen has offered to send my a copy of her paper when she’s finished. I look forward to reading what other educators are saying about using blogs in their classrooms.

I came across this video in my wanderings through YouTube. I liked how the video summarized feelings I have about using technology in my classroom for my writing program. I believe an authentic audience is incredibly important for student engagement and motivation. What do you think?

The week prior to Easter I was contacted by a masters student in Minnesota regarding blogging with students. She had been reading my class blog and hoped that I would participate in her research.

Aspen Easterling wrote:

You are invited to participate in a study of educational blogs. Journals and books suggest ways to incorporate blogs in education, but I hope to learn how teachers are actually using blogs as educational tools. You were selected as a possible participant in this study because I found your blog and am curious to find out more about how you use it in your class(es).

 

Questionnaire:

1. What grade(s) and subjects do you use your blog with?

2. What online tools do you use to support your classroom blog? (Blogger, TypePad, Photobucket, Flickr, etc.)

3. Why did you decide to use a blog as an educational tool? What did you hope it would do for your students and/or for you?

4. How long have you been using a blog as an educational tool?

5. How do you use your classroom blog? (posting student work, information for parents, online writing tool, collaborative projects, etc.)

6. If you use your blog for student writing, has their writing improved? Please explain?

7. Please list 3 positives about using blogs in your teaching.

8. Please list 3 negatives about using blogs in your teaching.

9. Please list 3 things you’ve changed in your teaching as a result of using a blog.

10. Please list 3 things that youʼve kept the same.

11. If you use your blog with students, in what way(s) do you ensure their safety? (model proper behavior, pen names, no real names of people or places, etc.)

 

So, now I ask all of you who use blogs with students. What would your answers be? I’m as curious as Aspen to find out the answers to the above questions. I will answering the questions in the next day or two and will post the answers again. I look forward to comparing mine with yours.