Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning Spaces

I have begun to set up my classroom for the 2011-12 school year, but have approached this task with a very different mind-set from previous years. Typically when I set up my room, the question I ask myself is: Where are my students going to sit? I begin with desk placement and seating plans. Desks at the start of the year are usually placed in pairs facing the board and ME!

This year I have begun with a different question: How can I create collaborative work spaces? By beginning with a design rather than a seating plan question the task became in many ways simpler. I got rid of furniture I no longer needed, ended up with a large open space in the middle of the room where we can gather and I have 12 well-spaced work areas with a total seating capacity of 38! This does not even include the 6 computers. I've gotten rid of my desk and have only a small area for my belongings. I have to say that I am astonished at how much space there now is. Students will be able to spread out and select individual, partner or small group areas based on their learning needs.

The bulletins boards are blank. I no longer feel the need to make these look pretty for the students. Instead we will fill our boards as needed and students will be participants in the process.

Tomorrow I will video tape the layout and post it to You Tube.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


David Wees and I had a discussion today about how we could better support new teachers. One of the great mysteries when I began my career was what to do on the first day.  During our teacher training we never got to see how a teacher starts the school year. My job would have been so much easier if this had been part of my training.

Out of this was born the hashtag  #NewTeacher1stYear and thanks to Lisa Dabbs and Jana Scott Lindsay a You Tube Channel  Teachers can create and post videos of how they do things.  There are really no video resources that we could find showing teachers how to begin. If you are already working on a project such as this, please let us know.


David provides greater detail on his blog about the ways experienced teachers could share their "trade secrets" ;)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RSCON3 - App-titude For Learning

Finally, I have a moment to  write about my own experience in presenting at RSCON3.  What astonishes me in this whole process of being invited to speak is the speed with which this happened. In December of 2010, I began blogging to document the transformation of my teaching practice. By January I was on twitter; by February I had become an active, if small, voice in the global discussion on education through social media. By April my class was working with Ian, Esa and Cynthia to design an app and by June I had agreed to speak at a global econference.

I must thank Ian and Shelley for inviting and encouraging me to present. I had never done anything like this previously and it was a valuable learning experience that has not yet ended.   It caused me to step out of my comfort zone - the way I ask my students to do every day. I had fun! I also have to thank the organizers who gave their time so generously in creating this event. They can be found here:
Aviva Dunsinger, who moderated my session, did an excellent job and I am very appreciative that she gave her time to assist me. My goal for the next RSCON is to be a moderator - to help someone else have a successful presentation. Thanks also to those who took time on a weekend to be at my presentation. I have to say that it was a relief that anyone actually showed up!

I can't thank Ian, Esa and Cynthia enough for inviting my class to be part of the app project. This is by far the best learning experience I have ever participated in with students.

So, what is my presentation about?  How we created an app? Definitely! How you can do this with your class too? Absolutely!  Most of all it is about what I have come to call Real World Learning: how with access to social media, teachers no longer have to invent projects that mimic the real world, instead students can work directly with experts to create things that have real applications.

The big reveal of the app is included. See what it looks like! And see where this project is going next.

Here it is:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Some thoughts on new genres, conformity and rules

The cloud and Web 2.0 tools are creating new genres at a breath-taking pace. As educators develop clearer understanding of their underlying structures and begin integrating them into their programs, rules of use are developing; common assumptions of the purpose and function of these genres are emerging.

Here is an example of  how to assess tweets.

As a teacher I see the value in developing common rubrics and assessment tools and I think that the above rubric is useful.  It would be particularly helpful to someone trying to understand why they are not gaining followers on twitter or why their tweets are not-being retweeted or why no one has entered into conversation with them.   As a teacher, at one time, I would have created similar rubrics and handed them to my students.  I don't do that anymore.  I would much rather have my students experiment with the tool, determine its purpose and function on their own and then collaboratively develop ways to assess effective use. Students gain a much deeper understanding when they are allowed to work in this way.  In the pre-written rubric all the thinking has already been done.  The learning has been pre-determined. The creativity element is missing.  The imposition of the rubric designer's understanding of tool  is given priority and users become mimickers.

 It's not that rubrics such as the above do not have their place.  Sometimes it is expedient to push a process along. Sometimes students need to be shown other ways of engaging that they have not discovered independently. Ultimately, twitter already contains meaningful assessment - are you gaining followers, are your tweets being retweeted, are you being mentioned?  The above rubric helps a student understand why.

What does one do though when gaining followers and retweets or advancing discussion is not someone's purpose in using twitter? Who am I to say that someone is using twitter incorrectly?  Web 2.0 tools are exciting precisely because they allow learners to explore learning independently and to express their ideas in ways meaningful to them. Let's not lose sight of that. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

RSCON3 Education in Finland

For those not in the know, Finland has one of the most well regarded school systems in the world. They typically score the highest marks on international tests even though standardized testing plays no role within their school system.  Last weekend at RSCON3, two educators and a high school student shared with us the secrets of Finnish education.

The road to success began in the 1970's when Finland made a commitment to improving its school system.  At that time Finland decided to provide the best teacher training possible and that all teachers would be required to have master's degrees. Finland loves its teachers, but more importantly, Finland trusts its teachers. Teaching is considered to be as prestigious a profession as medicine or law.

Kindergarten does not begin until the age of 6 and formal instruction begins at age 7. Until then children ... play.

Education is free in Finland and private schools are rare. What exactly is paid for? Meals, medical care, dental care, transportation and education to the end of university, as well as educational support for students who struggle.  No student in Finland is burdened with student debt.

Although there are overall curriculum goals, autonomy is given to teachers and schools for planning and implementation and teachers are given a great deal of time to develop programming.

What struck me in particular during this talk was how different the experience of high school is. The typical cool, geek, jock cliques that are so prevalent in North America are not part of Finnish youth culture.  Bullying appears to be a non-issue to the speakers (although, I think this needs further clarification)  and students are not restricted to attending one school. In high school students select their courses based on what is offered at different schools. For example, a math course might be taken at one school, but on another day a student might go to a different school for art.There is no such thing as a catchment area. Students have mobility to pursue their specific interests. How freeing is that? No one is stuck!

Within the school system there is no prohibition of friendships between teachers and students. Teachers seem to take a personal interest in the lives of their students and appear to be part of a community that extends beyond the bell. How different from North America.  The overriding sense that I had was that there is a great deal of respect between all parties involved in education in Finland.

Finland: land of the sensible!
If you would like to learn more, here is the link to the presentation.
You can connect with Finnish educators on twitter with the hashtag #finnedchat

Friday, August 5, 2011

I was going to write about my rscon3 presentation but this is better

My rscon3 presentation ended with quotes from my students about how they felt being part of the app project. Participation in the app project and other web2.0 activities over the course of the year has clearly had an impact.

Today two of my students DM'd me with a sample of their new internet show and the link to a super tool - that allows you to produce high-end 3D animation and video in minutes using only your browser.  They sent me the beginning to their show. It is very slick. These two boys on their own time are taking the skills they learned in my class and creating something original and no doubt very funny.
These students are part of my PLN - I have learned from them today and look forward to seeing what they produce.  We are co-learners on this journey through digital media. Once again the teacher-student relationship is being rewritten.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reform Symposium

Last weekend, I had the privilege of  attending the Reform Symposium.   This marked yet another milestone in education and in my own career.  It was a global event. People attended and presented from their own homes via a virtual classroom called  Elluminate  .

Those at the forefront of educational change showed and discussed the myriad ways that Web 2.0 tools are changing teaching and learning. If you are not yet familiar with the term, Web 2.0 refers to the Social Media tools that allow us to create and share information.  Learning has become anytime, anywhere, anyhow and from anyone.  

I sat on my couch for 3 days on one of the most beautiful weekends of the summer because I didn't want to miss a moment.

The conference was organized by volunteers, it was free and now it is available to everyone as all talks were recorded.   Each lasts about 30 minutes and each is invaluable. They can be found here:  They are also being uploaded to the rscon3 You Tube channel.  Discussions related to the event are taking place on twitter under the hashtag #rscon3.

I am inserting directly Steve Wheeler's closing keynote:  The Future of Learning.  I suggest you view it, especially if you have not yet begun to explore this topic.  It might help avoid the feeling that the educational rug has been pulled out from underneath you and hopefully generate understanding of the changes taking place.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reform Symposium (RSCON3) Just What's So Different?

Initially when I planned this post about Reform Symposium 3, I was going to write about the incredibly inspiring speakers and the wonderfully rich collaboration that is occurring in learning spaces around the world. I was then going to add in my reflections on the thought-provoking keynotes. I was going to thank the dedicated organizers, volunteers, and presenters.  I was going to thank Ian, Esa, Cynthia and Aviva for helping make my presentation  a success.  I could go on and on because all of it would be true. It was a remarkable event.

What struck me today, though,  as I read through the tweets under the #rscon3 hashtag in twitter is the aftermath. Typically when one attends a professional development event one of two things happen. Either people leave grumbling that the event was a waste of time or people leave excited with new ideas that they begin to use in their classrooms and ... that's the end of it.  RSCON3 did not leave people grumbling, that is certain. The event was the richest learning opportunity that I have had to date as an educator and I have been teaching for more than 20 years.

What's significant about RSCON3 is what's happening now, what we are able to observe because of social media. We have the privilege of seeing the impact.  Attendees are blogging, slidesharing, tweeting, commenting on blogs and sharing how they will use their ideas.  They are pursuing more deeply the ideas they encountered and sharing those reflections for the rest of us to consider.   They are searching out and sharing links that are relevant to topics discussed.  They are connecting with other attendees to form fluid personal learning communities.  Over the next year we will continue to read about and see the impact as attendees blog and tweet on how their practice, learning environments and selves are changing.   More than that though, those who did not attend are going to encounter people, blogs and tweets that have been influenced by the event, and they will begin changing their educational practices.  They, too, will tweet, blog and share. And we are able to witness it.

As Steve Wheeler said in his keynote - attendees are "amplifying" rscon3 through social media.   That is what is different. I am awed by this.

If you haven't discovered the power yet of this amplification, I give you Michael Gaffin's slideshare from #rscon3: What the heck is a PLN


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