Social Media Breaks

Another perfect day at the lake!
Another perfect day at the lake!

This summer I took a deliberate online hiatus from social media.  This was facilitated by some key events.

  1. I wondered if I could.
  2. Our cabin in the Sierra Nevadas does not have internet access.
  3. I didn’t want to get sand in my iPad or computer.

Engaging with social media is a habit.  Like Pavlov’s dog, the ping or even a lapse of time, brings the strong impulse “to check”.  In many instances, it evokes a smile with a quick update or joke or pic from a friend or relative.  It may bring reassurance that the kids are okay.  It may allow for the impromptu bike ride, golf game, or tea time.   It brings a connection with people connected with common interests and reminders of that upcoming dentist’s appointment.

 

By all accounts, a break from social media is viewed to be a very positive thing.   The downside of “the ping” is when it signals that you are still at work with things to tend to.  It is easy to fall into the trap of, “Better to do it now, rather than adding it to the never ending things to do list”.  I’ve looked at many emails and texts that come with an expectation of immediate response, even very late at night and very early in the morning.  The NOT working 24/7 is the quest implicit in the technology break.

 

I LOVE Twitter as a tool for professional development.  Disengaging from posting and responding to other posts brings a disconnection with “friends” or “followers”.  If the numbers game is an important goal, then the break is not a healthy thing.  If you have cultivated connections online, then you know where to find them and how to re-engage when you’re ready.  One of the best things of presenting in Boston at the International Literacy Association this summer, was connecting with some of the people I’ve connected with online.  We’d look at each others nametag and react as old friends.  As a tool to develop your Professional Learning Community, I think Twitter is brilliant.  Although the 140 characters of text do not provide enough depth to be profound, the links to blogs and articles and other professional development stimulate the thought and connections to facilitate professional growth.  I frequently use Twitter as a way to take notes and involve people inside and outside the room in thinking about the topic being discussed during professional development sessions.  I did miss the conversation over the summer.

 

A close colleague and I frequently laugh about our treatment of books.  We are both prolific readers.  She sits in one place, does not bend the pages and places them back on the shelf in order by author’s last name.  I take a collection of books with me everywhere I go.  They show evidence of the beach, the bathtub, red wine, coffee and many bends in the corners.  This is probably why e-readers have never worked for me.  Professional books are marked with highlighters, stickee tabs and underlining.   They go back on a shelf if I get them back from whoever last borrowed it.  That did not change this summer but the blogging piece did change how I interacted with the books.  Blogging pushes the reflection of text to a deeper level.  When ideas are being expressed to an audience, it is necessary to refine your thinking and fine tune how your ideas are expressed.  I think I read more this summer without blogging but I thought about what I had read less.  Blogging facilitates the reflection which makes the reading more personally meaningful.  I continued to register a plethora of questions to ask and ideas to blog about LATER.

 

After the initial break from technology, it became easier and easier not to reach for my phone or get up early in the am to blog.  I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to get back into the habit of engaging in social media.  As with anything, engaging with technology isn’t something that some people are predisposed to do.  It is a clear choice that it is important and therefore the time and energy must be carved out to engage in it.  So now I am forced with the challenge of getting back to the gym AND getting back to engaging with technology.  Fortunately I can read my phone on the stationary bike 🙂

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Technology Break

 

imageIn my quest to extend my background knowledge of technology, I have immersed myself in learning using my computer, my iPad, my iPhone and even my FitBit. Experiences with distance learning, the PILOT (Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities using Technology) inquiry with my staff, providing PREP for teachers in the computer lab at our school and participating in professional learning with colleagues online has kept me “plugged in” on a regular basis.  At some times, my iPhone seems to have become an extension of my arm.  Although I’ve made a concerted effort to take technology breaks, they are generally brief and not enough to direct my thinking elsewhere.  This Spring Break that changed.

My husband and I went to Cuba for the first time.  My homework revealed that internet access was not only expensive but it was unreliable.   I also didn’t realize how safe Cuba was so I locked up all my technology and left it at home.  My husband brought a tablet and his HTC android.  The HTC did not take good pictures and the tablet was too big to be easily accessible so my vacation was largely without tech toys.

After a brief period of “disconnection withdrawal”,  I was just fine not being online. Being in the tropics certainly makes the process of exhaling and relaxing happen easily.  This is particularly the case when no one can get hold of you.  I did miss the iPhone camera.  It made me realize how often I snap photos of information rather than writing it down.  Snapping photos also often helps me to record memories, create artistic photos to share and remember great writing ideas.  I was delighted when I got home and had my iPhone camera accessible when I spotted the father eagle guarding the Kits Point nest.  I snapped the pic and while I was looking down at it, he took flight and I missed it.  I found myself wishing I had left the phone at home.

The merits of taking a technology break and enjoying the moment and the people you are with has obvious benefits.  What I have found most surprising is the effort required to reconnect after the technology break.   Communicating online requires the same investment as any face to face relationship.  You need to devote the time in order to experience any kind of reciprocity.  The real value of the break for me was the pause to re-evaluate the avenues that are most worthwhile to engage both online and offline.  Strategic use rather than conditioned response is my new goal for tech use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making iMovie Magic

Thanks to SD38 and their SummerTech Institute at Westwind Elementary School, I’m inspired and ready to start to another year of tech learning with Tecumseh students.  In my role as Vice Principal, I am enrolling a Grade 3 class and teaching computer skills to Grade 5-7 students this year.  Last year I dipped my toe into using iMovie on the iPad with students. Students in Grade 3 and 4 had no difficulty learning to take and edit photos, plan video clips, insert audio clips, airdrop and use templates to make their movies more effective.  We made movies for a variety of purposes:

  • A way of showcasing Remembrance Day art in the school to the Last Post

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  • Highlighting some of the items not always easy to share during student led conferences such as friends in class,

gymnastics skills and presenting practised, low pressure oral readings of text to parents.

  • Event sharing including student interviews about using BookCreator for content area projects and presenting at the                          Celebration of Learning

Video Jedi, Dylan, from the Apple store did a great session on making iMovies in Richmond last week.  3 steps to make a movie

1.  Import

2.  Create

3.  Share

Sounds pretty basic.  I do find the process is easier on the iPad than on the computer but that could be because I’m more familiar with it.  Dylan’s best advice was to BE ORGANIZED.  The events folder is a good idea to hold content such as pictures, videos, voice-overs and other audio clips.  The entire Apple team was very helpful and invaluable for their trouble shooting.

A fantastic online discovery has been the iMovie Trailer Planners.  It provides the structure to help students storyboard their movies with fillable PDF’s for all 14 trailer templates that are included in iMovie for iPad, iPhone and the iPod touch.  The planning sheet helps students to decide the appropriate trailer for the content and mood of the material being shared.  The results are very professional looking and the limited amount of text requires careful selection of images.  The sample of The Giver demonstrates how effectively the trailers can be used to demonstrate understanding of texts.  Certainly a more engaging project than the book reports that I did in school.  Virginia Bowden used the narrative trailer to have her gifted students to do autobiographies last year.  Even the 4th graders came up with impressive results.

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I am looking forward to sharing this material with VSB Teacher Librarians at their Kick-off/ Orientation / Speed Geeking event.  It’s exciting that so many teacher librarians in the Vancouver School Board are enthusiastic about using technology to engage Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.  I’m also excited about continuing the learning and discovery of possibilities with students and colleagues this year.

Speed Geeking

    Audrey Van Alstyn and her team of Vancouver School Board mentors, Joanne Carlton, Zhi Su, Dan Borges and Linda Kwan put together great learning experience for teachers and administrators navigating their way through the world of technology.

1.  Fourteen presenters had selected an App to share that they had used with students.  Apps presented included ShadowPuppets, Paper 53, Showbie, Explain Everything, iMovie, BookCreator..,

2.  Each presenter had 5 minutes to provided a brief into of an App and shared students samples to 3-6 people.

3.  Audrey would ring a hand bell.

4.  Each group would rotate clockwise to the next station.

5.  Each presenter did their 5 minute session 14 times so everyone could visit each station.

After our gourmet pizza break (yes, the butter chicken pizza was amazing), attendees chose the station that they wanted to have the opportunity to explore in more depth.  The only downside was that presenters didn’t get to attend all of the other sessions.  So much to learn.  So many people willing to share their ideas.  Can’t wait until the next event!

Such an energizing event.

Innovation Brewing Everywhere

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A two week Spring Break provided a good excuse to go see how my daughter was doing in Spain.  I spent a big chunk of time en route, in the Newark Airport.  Innovation is alive and well and celebrated in Newark Airport.  All the restaurants had iPad menues where you placed your order and paid before you ever saw your server or the food.  #MakeThingsBetter was advertised widely and aimed to popularize the notion that the energy industry is committed to better energy in the oil, natural gas and solar energy sectors.   “Innovation brewing everywhere”.

In Spain, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia speaks to the quest to innovate, that has existed throughout history.  Gaudi started work in 1884 on this “modern cathedral”, knowing that he would never see it completed but with the quest to work out the architectural challenges he had been wrestling with throughout his lifetime.  The innovation is celebrated inside and outside of Spain and funded largely by the Catholic community and the tourists who flock to stare in awe at the magnificence.

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The quest to innovate is alive in every area of life.  The Michelin star chefs strive to create the most delectable pintxos for the Spanish and tourists to enjoy on a nightly basis.  It is well worth the quest to have a glass of wine and the house “pintxo” specialty and then move on to the next spot.  The quest to innovate feeds the Michelin star chef and the quest to discover “perfection in two bites” feeds the consumer.  Medical science has cured the cancer that took Terry Fox’s life.  Planes can travel at speeds that break the sound barrier.

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Innovation  is wholeheartedly embraced in education by some educators and students alike.  The potential of doing something better captures many imaginations.  They say that change is difficult because in schools because people walk into the classroom and proceed to teach exactly as they were taught as children.  Yet, there are also those educators who do not want to replicate their own experiences, see the spark of enthusiasm or the blind faith in success in their students’ eyes.   That keeps the momentum moving towards the potential for something more or something better in our schools.  Social media allows people of like mind to connect and inspire the ability to move forward.  Jordan Tinney and George Couros are two of those people who engage online and provide the inspiration to consider the rationale and potential pathways for reaching towards new possibilities with technology.  I’m thrilled to be able to continue the conversation in person at the next PDK dinner meeting on April 22, 2015 at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver.

Stay tuned to #pdkedchat on April 22nd to participate in the Twitter conversation.

Student Led conferences via iMovie

Student led conferences with a twist this year.  Joanne Carlton, our VSB iMentor was fortunately available to come to the classroom to guide our learning in Division 11.  She has a considerable amount of background knowledge in literacy instruction and technology.  As luck would have it,  Zhi Su, the VSB iMovie expert was also available to come as well.  We had planned in advance of their arrival so we could make the best use of their time.   The previous week, I has attended a session for teachers and administrators participating the iPad Cart inquiry with my inquiry colleagues.  Although I’ve had some experience with iMovie, the facilitators broke down the process so that we were able to take photos and a short videoclip, then add voice and a music track.  Very impressive for an after school professional development session.  I posted the assignment for students (the list of photos and videoclips for students to collect) on the Showbie APP and explained the purpose with a voice note.  Most of the kids are now able to log onto their Showbie account independently. With student led conferences on the horizon, my Grade 3/4 class were excited about sharing the Winter theme books they had created with their photos from the playground, their winter sense poetry, downloaded images and audioclips.  However I decided to tap student interest in the iPad technology and allow my Grade 3 and 4 students to use the iPads to demonstrate and talk about their learning this term with their parents.   Many parents at the first conferences of the year had expressed they wanted their children to spend less time using technology.  I very much wanted them to understand the importance of being deliberate with time spent on screens.   Students had each collected:

  • a photo of himself or herself
  • a photo with the friends he/she particularly works well with in class
  • a videoclip of himself/herself doing gymnastics
  • a videoclip of himself/herself reading a favorite passage from the book he/she was currently reading
  • a photo of a piece of writing from his/her Thinking Book or Writing Book
  • a photo of the the province/territory or Aboriginal group he/she is researching

Zhi took the leadership of stepping the students through the process.  The first thing he did was show them how to pull up the picture of himself or herself and write their name on it.  Students learned to share group photos via airdrop, add music and shorten video-clips.  Many of our students attend Chinese School and decided that their Chinese calligraphy had to be part of their iMovie.  The more proficient students in the class have been teaching the others Chinese writing to create Lunar New Year cards to deliver to the mostly Asian business owners down Victoria Drive on February 19th.  Many students were proud to share their skill with their parents. We had lots of adults in the room helping the students and inquiring about their learning.  However the sharing between students was readily apparent.  If one student in a working group had music, then it was likely all of them did.  Myles LOVED the ability to airdrop and single handedly taught most of the class.  Jason, a big ‘”Frozen” fan downloaded an image from the movie as the final frame of his movie with the caption “Bye”.  One group of students downloaded applause for their iMovies.  The process was not without it’s glitches.  However everyone had a movie and one more way to open up the conversation about their learning with his/her parents.  Fortunately Henry emerged as our Grade 3 techno-wizard in the process of getting everyone ready for conferences once the mentors were gone.  He became the expert on downloading from iMovie to Showbie so we could share the iPads with our other inquiry classes on conference days.   Parents were simply amazed at how smart their children are and how much they have learned.  As the teacher, the iMovies helped me to learn about my students and determine some of the focus areas for learning.  The possibilities are endless and exciting! IMG_0246

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.

Embracing Questions and Moving Forward

The October, Provincial Professional Development Day in BC has become more of a Professional Development weekend.  Sessions start Thursday night and continue on through the weekend to make the most of the opportunity for participants from across the province to develop background knowledge, pursue passions and work collaboratively with like minded people.  The BC Principals and Vice Principals Associations, Individual District Administrator groups, BCTF Provincial Specialist Associations, Local Associations, UBC and a whole host of other organizations and  provided a plethora of options for educators to improve their professional practice. Implicit in coming together to work and learn collaboratively is the desire to improve our classroom/school practices and better meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

I went to a great session by Andrew Schofield , a Vancouver Administrator, on Saturday morning at a professional development conference for administrators in Vancouver Board of Education.   He was working with a staff in the 1990’s in South Africa, as they grappled with the significant shifts in government and societal changes, while still under the huge pressures of 70% unemployment and rampant health challenges.  His presentation focused on reflecting on our own responses to change, as well as trying to understand the responses of colleagues in the midst of change.  While some people find change exciting and others meet it with skepticism, everyone needs to cope with patterns and expectations outside of what has been established as the norm.  It’s hard.  Yet, despite it being a risk taking venture, educators all over the province regularly engage in change, motivated by government initiatives, needs of students and personal desire to do something better.

This Monday, the professional development continued at my school and the focus was inquiry.    As frequently happens with educators after prod days, I was anxious to try out some of the things that I had learned.   I used some of the activities that Andrew introduced as icebreakers to start off the session and  encourage reflection on the nature of change.  Simple activities like folding hands and legs and arms in a familiar way and then shifting to an unfamiliar ways resulted in a good laugh and some great reflection.   Seamless, familiar, automatic movements were shifted to unfamiliar actions requiring  deliberate cognitive engagement.  It was awkward and uncomfortable.  The discussion continued with the reflection on the preferences for the chocolates or skittles or jujubes (which also involved favorite colours) in bowls on the centre of the table.  Decisions were deliberate and automatic and not up for discussion.  This was a great way to move into working in inquiry teams with a diverse group of peoples with a little more patience and understanding of the approaches, reactions and unspoken assumptions of group members.

Teachers engaged in rich discussion about the nature of inquiry, the types of questions to consider, and their interests.  We have using Spirals of Inquiry (2013) by Halbert and Kaser to frame our discussions on inquiry.  Some groups shared questions and thoughts arising out of recent prod sessions and others shared learning coming out of previous inquiries.  One group had focused their attention on giving students a greater range of choice when doing project based learning.  We were fortunate to have Barb McBride, the district Reading Recovery Teacher Leader attending our prod.  She shared her work with Maureen Dockendorf, Faye Brownlie, Judy Halbert, Linda Kaiser and other inspirational educators to facilitate the inquiry process in British Columbia.  Her work with three teachers in our school has resulted in an inquiry group focusing on supporting the most vulnerable students in their early literacy development.  Another group of teachers talked about the recent session they had attended with educators across the district to define questions about how we can use technology to increase student engagement and learning .  Another group told about the conference cosponsored by NITEP and BCTF at the UBC longhouse.  They were considering how to apply their learning to create a better sense of belonging and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing at the school.  One teacher introduced us to Apple tv and an app she had recently purchased for scheduling, organization and record keeping.    It was certainly one of those days when I’m left in awe of the intelligence, commitment and tenacity of teachers in the quest to be lifelong learners.  This is the work that I find not only inspiring but energizing.

Blogging for Thinking – Reboot

As you may remember from the earlier Blogging for Thinking post, Virginia Bowden and I started our inquiry project in February of this year with two groups of students identified as gifted. These students were participating in two different district programs at an elementary school in Vancouver. Our quest was to use blogging as a means to develop writing skills and critical thinking skills in our students. We posted this entry on the Kidblog sites we had each created to guide our classes.

***** Blogging for Thinking Post on Kidsblog *****

Technology is a tool just like a pencil or pen. We are using blogging as a tool for two reasons. Kidblog allows your teacher to adjust the security settings so only your classmates, parents and teachers can read and respond to your blog. It allows you to creatively personalize your space and learn about blogging before you start posting in a public space. Blogging is also one way to develop and extend your thinking through writing by reflecting on your learning in and out of the classroom. Because you are not able to use your facial expressions or other body language to communicate, your words must clearly express your ideas. You also have the task of using your creativity and language to grab the interest of your audience.

Throughout your learning, we are using the following questions from Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser (Spirals of Learning 2013) to keep us moving forward.

  1. What am I learning?
  2. Why does it matter?
  3. Where am I going next with my learning?

We will be using the following a rubric based on the article “Responding to the imperatives of learning in the 21st Century” (The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2011) to evaluate your progress.

  1. Developing Self-regulated learning: The goal is for you to be able to say: “I am in charge of my learning and motivated to carry out my work in personally responsible, self-reflective ways and to exercise reasoned judgment to meet my goals”.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I depend on others for almost all

decisions about what,

how and when I learn; I follow the teacher’s directions but I don’t add my own thoughts, ideas or interpretations.

I demonstrate personal

responsibility to take charge of what, how and when I learn but I need the teacher to provide specific options to choose from.

I exercise thoughtfully

informed judgments in the pursuit of agreed-upon targets and self assess my work according to teacher provided rubrics..

I put a lot of thought and planning into setting goals and a plan to reach them.   I self evaluate how my learning is going and where I want to go next.

 

  1. Developing my Thinking Skills: The goal is to develop your critical thinking skills. The word “critical” does not mean finding fault in this case. It means that you are not just “parroting back” information, but demonstrating proficiency by making connections, analyzing evidence, and making judgments.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

I report back what I heard, did, or read during class or out of school learning experiences.

I report back what I heard, did, or read. I make connections between my learning experiences at school or home.

I consistently describe my learning and express why my learning matters. I understand where I am going next with my learning and come up with an efficient and effective plan of action.

I understand the value of my learning and where I want to go next with my learning.   My plan, conclusions & opinions are based on careful analysis of my experiences and a variety of evidence.

***************

The Blogging for Thinking post reflected how I had come to use blogging in my professional practice.   To post information. An online newsletter. When I started the process of developing personal blogs with my students, I shared several blogs with a range of purposes. We discussed the intent of the blog. The existence or non-existence of “voice”. Establishing credibility as an author? The theme holding together the blog entries. The role or comments in pushing thinking or shutting it down.   Great conversations ensued with students who were adept online.

It was no surprise that the writers in my class and those students with clearly defined passions, immediately took to blogging. Some students played around with a variety of ideas before settling on a theme for his/her personal blog. Some students decided in their self evaluation that they didn’t really see the purpose of the assignment until they saw where some of their peers had gone with their blogs.

As Virginia and I shared student blog entries with each other, our hearts palpitated with powerful pieces of student writing. Not only did these blogs reflect well-developed background knowledge, they demonstrated an ability to skillfully use language to convey a message that mattered, as well as an ability to engage the peers who were able to view the blog.

In the midst of reflecting on blogs of our students, I could hear Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser’s voices in my head with the mantra…What are you learning? Why does it matter?…What next?…   Add Jim Gee to the mix with the challenge to consider our responsibility to provide “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring to our students to guide them beyond “the entertainment only “ aspect of the digital world. Add the discussions of the expanded definition of literacy at The International Reading Association Leadership Conference took place in Florida this July.   I certainly had the front end loading to write many, many blog entries.

Meredith Kezar catapulted me into the world of blogging 5 years ago by providing an example of what it could look like. She insisted I delve into her blog and showed me the possibilities for my upcoming trip to China. I was on my way to teach English and BC methodology to Chinese teachers in Fuyang. I started a travel blog to keep very specific groups of friends and family up to date on my adventures. It was fun to write, had strong “voice” and I got lots of positive reinforcement.   Many of the blogs that I have done since then have been a way of sharing information with a specific audience. More or less a group send without the hassle. However it had stopped there.

My vague goal this summer was to write widely. Stephen King’s book hit home with the need to be disciplined about carving out time to write.   I always think of Margaret Atwood and the dentist sitting beside her at an awards dinner saying “When I retire, I’m gong to become a writer” and her hitting back with “Oh, really. When I retire, I’m going to become a dentist.” My summer goal was to focus my attention of both personal and professional writing as a way to live life.

Art Markham’s work has been a good reminder about how the brain forms new habits. Where my journal writing often happened on the beach or in a café, my disciplined focus on writing required early mornings at home with no distractions.   I decided to use blogging as the tool to develop my background knowledge of digital media and develop my professional writing.   I stepped away from the blogs that I had used to share information with a tightly defined audience. I reframed three previously established blogs to explore unique purposes.

The blog that I had developed as The Provincial Coordinator of BC Literacy Council of The International Reading Association (BCLCIRA) became Inquire2Empower  CarrieFroese.wordpress.com Initially I started it when I became Provincial Coordinator, of The BC Literacy Council. The purpose was to create community with literacy educators who were International Reading Association members. It is now emerging into a tool not only to provide information, but also to engage a wide range of educators in asking questions and reflecting on learning. It put the onus on me to engage in regular reflective process about my reading, writing, perspectives, conversations and invite feedback.   It was empowering to have Art Markham responding to my comments on his book and learning about creating “unanticipated community”. It’s interesting to learn which issues and ideas resonate with other people. How does this inform the professional offerings we offer through BCLCIRA and PDK in Vancouver?

My Hobbit travel journal came to with me on my first 6 week trek to Europe when I was 17 years old. It is filled with descriptions of what we ate and drank. Some things don’t change. My seriousindulgences.wordpress.com blog reflects that enduring fascination with food and drink. Entries come naturally and much of the writing has been done at Kit’s pool between laps, on the beach, in hotel rooms or in cafes. It has really pushed the development of my technical knowledge about digital media: Format; mobile posting to Facebook; Posting to Pages as opposed to timelines; Twitter; Instacollage; Pinterest… Because I like to travel, eat out and go wine tasting, posts are frequent. This lends itself to considering timing and frequency of posts to reach a vaguely defined audience. So much to learn about the how to’s and why’s and really’s?

I have been on the board of directors for Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society of British Columbia www.wartoystopeaceart.com for many years. Susan Ruzic, Sandy Murray and myself set up a blog cultureofpeace4kids.wordpress.com site last year. Our intention was to create a dynamic site that allows multiple people to post projects and publicize funding for peace art projects with children.   My summer goal has been to develop a standard for posts that will invite active participation to report projects funded by PC2 (Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children), keep our eyes open for ideas for other possible projects and perhaps attract funding.   Although this site has the least activity, it does open the possibility of redefining how the board functions and invites participation from others in a noble causeJ

As my holidays come to a close, I feel energized by my summer learning. Although blogging is defined as public due to the nature of the audience, the actual writing and subsequent growth is extremely personal. This spring, Virginia and I were trying to teach our students to apply and develop their writing skills and critical thinking skills. That is just what I did as I carved out time for regular reflective practice, wrote for a larger audience and broadened my perspective on the possibilities of social media. The PDK professional development with Chris Kennedy and crew, the journey of literacy practitioners to expand the definition of literacy, the quest of neuroscientists working with educators to bring new understanding of learning, all came together for some very powerful personal professional development.

James Paul Gee: What you NEED to know about Digital Literacy & Social Media

I was fortunate to be able to hear James Paul Gee talk at The Learning and the Brain Conference in New York this past May. He was as dynamic and animated as you would expect from an innovator challenging many entrenched views of education, learning and their relationship to digital learning and social media. Of the many talks that I heard, Jim Gee’s talk and his book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Media, keeps creeping back into my thoughts.

The notion that we need provide young children with scaffolding so they can learn to talk, read and develop thinking skills has become a mainstream understanding. The amount of talk a child has heard before five years of age and the child’s oral vocabulary by five years of age, directly corresponds with school success. Parents of preschoolers readily attend library story time, puppet shows and preschool programs to prepare them for school. Maria Montessori was cutting edge when she introduced child sized furniture for use by students. The notion of children being seen but not heard is no longer the societal standard. At Science World, the Aquarium, the beach, the park, the grocery store and the mall, you can overhear adults asking children for their thoughts, ideas, opinions and engaging in meaningful conversation.

Gee talks about the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively. This essentially is the notion of providing the scaffolding required in order to move beyond using digital media for entertainment only.   Gee emphasizes the need for synchronized intelligence: “…we need to be able to dance the dance of collective intelligence with others and our best digital tools (p.208)”.

As an educator with a MA in Reading, I understand and live the love of books. Lousie Rosenblatt best described the vital importance of the transaction between the reader and the text that makes the experience of reading significant. Gee makes the case that “…books and digital media are both technologies for making and taking meaning, forms of “writing” (producing meaning) and “reading” (consuming meaning), as are television and film.”

Once digital media is embraced as a form of literacy, it becomes less easy to dismiss it as irrelevant or harmful to learning. This expanded notion of literacies requires that parents and educators provide the scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world. Just as we want our children to move beyond consuming a diet of comics and magazines to more thought provoking reading material, we want our children to move beyond mindless or violent games to applications requiring them to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways. We want to teach students to persevere past failures to find answers to their problems. We want them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions.

Gee creates the following list of 21st Century skills that are more often developed out of school than in it (p.202):

  • Ability to master new forms of complex and often technical language and thinking
  • Ability to engage in collaborative work and collective intelligence where the group is smarter than the smartest person in it
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Ability to deal with complexity and to think about and solve problems with respect to complex systems
  • Ability to find and marshal evidence and revise arguments in he face of evidence
  • The ability to produce with digital media and other technologies and not just consume their content
  • And the ability to avoid being a victim of social forces and institutions that are creating a more competitive, stressful, and unequal world.

This creates a compelling rationale for mentoring the effective use of digital media and social media.  The goal is for students to define a passion to provide the motivation to engage wholeheartedly in a quest that helps the student to persevere through challenges and engage in higher order thinking to solve problems and communicate in a meaningful way. I highly recommend this book to teachers and parents.