OLÉ & RML - After the show ...

We began our winter break today so this will be my last post for the next week and a half or so.

As I said earlier, the feedback from last Friday's workshop has been overwhelmingly positive. So much so that I hesitated to publish it here for fear it would sound like bragging. I'm publishing it nonetheless for two reasons:

    (1) I always encourage my children and students to brag about their accomplishments — we shouldn't be afraid of sharing what we do well.
    (2) I'd like to keep a record of it for my own reference. In some ways I've begun to think of this blog as my personal mental filing cabinet.

In the areas of animation, content and satisfaction the ratings were universally the highest possible.

These were the responses to Please comment on any positive aspects of this workshop:

  • »You touched on many valuable areas, but most valuable aspect was the different ways to use a blog site.
  • »Your passion is infectious. Show up at [our school] in a month and see it in action.
  • »Tons of info. Almost too much.
  • »I am excited by the possibilities offered by these technologies. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this over the holidays.
  • »Great eye-opening experience. Thank you Darren!! Please keep me updated at [my email address]. It would be [good] to have some interesting and insightful discussions about the future of learning using blogs with some of our colleagues. This discussion needs to take place. Thanks again!!
  • »This was great! I did not know how to do any of this before today. I need to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
  • »Fantastic!
  • »You are an extremely knowledgeable presenter — and an obviously committed educator.
  • »Great tango metaphor! Your enthusiasm and practical down to earth classroom examples are profound! Having your "skyped" guests online was very enlightening.

These were the responses to Please comment on any negative aspects of this workshop:

  • »None (x3)
  • »Create a second workshop on creating your blog. We know that we want to use it. Help us make it.
  • »Not enough time to play.
  • »None other than running out of time. I suspect this could be a 2 day workshop.
  • »So much in so little time — I needed more time to practice in order to remember what I did.
  • »Too much info for one day! Could have spent 2 — more slowly.
  • »Perhaps for Windows users one might explain Mac minimize and close functions. Need more time to absorb many of [the] features, but you definitely cause participants to think!

These were the responses to Any additional comments, compliments, concerns, complaints, confusions or anxieties?

  • »Please send me links/tools you have that you didn't post on this site.
  • »Baby steps will get me there.
  • »WOW! So much info, so little time. I'll really need to play with this.
  • »Thank you for you passion and enthusiasm — I'm going to give this a shot and see where it goes.
  • »I would like to present this to my department and my administrators. I would like to propose to have you come in to do a presentation to either my admin, my team, and/or the leadership council at [my school].
  • »Thanks Darren!
  • »Our dialogue over lunch will I'm sure prove beneficial so we can meet the needs of all students and teachers in our division. Thank you for your frankness and willingness to push the envelope. Great job!

In the week following this workshop there have been a spate of new blogs in our little corner of the edublogosphere. I'd like to encourage any readers of this blog to drop in and leave folks encouraging comments. You'll accomplish two things by doing so:

    (1) Tangibly demonstrate how blogs bring the world into your classroom on a daily basis.
    (2) Foster the growth of a new edublogger. Let's give them a warm welcome to the edublogging community!

Here are the new blogs that came about directly because of this workshop:

One comment that came up several times orally was that teachers wanted a step-by-step walk-through setting up a blog on Blogger. One of the things I really like about Blogger is their straightforward, simple interface. However, there are a lot of things to consider as you work your way through all the settings. I think I'll write an abridged version of Rip, Mix, Learn that does just that. I'm doing another OLÉ, & RML double header in January and again in February — that'll be my testing ground. ;-)

Have an excellent holiday season; and remember, spread some good cheer in the comments to our new edubloggers! ;-)


2005 EduBlog Awards

Check out the results from the 2005 EduBlog Awards. If you're not reading any of the blogs on this list you should at least drop in and check them out. Also, take a look at the stats page. It's interesting to see how close some of the races were, but more interesting to visit the sites of all the award nominees. This will give you lots to read over the holidays. ;-)

OLÉ & RML - Thank you to all my friends!

Friday's workshop went exceedingly well -- the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. More on this in my next post.

Anne, Sheryl and Clarence I can't thank you enough! I think the most dynamic aspect of the entire experience was your contribution via Skype.

Anne was with us the entire day! She danced the tango with us and she shared how she used blogs with her elementary students and now with her high school students. The description of the collaboration she did with Will's journalism class really opened everyone's eyes to the potential of this technology. I've been mulling over a way to establish a similar link between an elementary school and my classes here in Winnipeg. Although I had known about Will's and Anne's classes working together, hearing how they had orchestrated the experience has planted a seed in my brain as well. Anne told us how a typical elementary student, when given any writing to do, tosses it off quickly in order to be done with it ASAP. In this collaboration, because they were writing for high school students, they wanted to impress the high school kids and poured time and energy into their writing like they had never done before.

Anne also talked about the emotional impact that a global community can have on a single child by sharing with us Patrick's story -- a young man in grade five whose greatest wish was to pass grade five. The community responded and so did Patrick.

It was as though Anne was actually in the room with us. She shared her thoughts on how to respond to negative comments or students posting controversial material. She participated in the lively discussion we had about the reliability of bloggers as a source of information. Anne also participated in the blogging section of Rip, Mix, Learn by commenting on the teacher's posts in The Playground. She made real the message she shared about how to orchestrate the participation of a global community in the comments to students posts. Anne you were unreal! I just can't thank you enough!

Sheryl skyped in (we had them both on a conference call -- I just learned how to do that with skype the day before the workshop.) She talked about how teachers can overcome the anxiety of learning and adapting technology to their practice. She made this really powerful statement: You can't give away what you don't own. She went on to describe how owning technology isn't about owning hardware, it's about owning the knowledge and know-how to facilitate learning. Her voice came through the speakers so clearly -- her message came through even more so! Sheryl, you are one fantastic lady. Everyone who walked out of my workshop said the same thing. Thank you so much!

Clarence is the master of the timely skype call. We had just had an in depth discussion of ways in which blogs and other read/write tools can be integrated into both the elementary and high school classes when the middle school teachers started asking: "Do you have any middle school examples?" I said: "You need to speak to Clarence." Skype rang and there he was! Clarence uses a very different blogging model than I do -- each of my classes has one blog for the entire class; Clarence has each student maintain their own blog. It was really eye opening to hear about another model from the man who had developed it. Clarence mentioned, in almost an off the cuff, matter of fact way, that his class uses their blogs to interact with students in Saskatchewan, Korea and Australia. Another powerful example of how blogs bring the world into the classroom every day. Clarence talked about how his students are learning not just curricular content but also the differences between cultures who have different assumptions and celebrate different holidays. He also shared with us how he dealt with students who tried to publish personal (controversial) content about members of their community and the powerful educational discussion this led to in his classroom. Clarence, your contributions were simply outstanding! I don't know how to thank you in a way that is comparable to what you shared with the teachers in my workshop.

Dean skyped in too. He had a crazy busy day and I didn't think he was going to make it. Unfortunately we had trouble connecting (something with skype?). Nonetheless, with everything he had going on he tried to participate. It was the fourth skype call into the workshop -- I think their heads were spinning. ;-) I'm grateful for the effort you made Dean.

I've run out of superlatives. My friend's impact was dramatic and I can only say you'll never really know how appreciative I am -- thank you.

OLÉ! - My Tango ...

The workshop I'm doing on Friday has two parts.

Part 1 is called OLÉ! - Orchestrating a Learning Ecology (or Learning the Tango). Part 2 is Rip, Mix, Learn. OLÉ is the philosophy, pedagogy and concrete steps I take to orchestrate my students Online Learning Environment. I'm using The Tango as a metaphor for how I do this. The Tango consists of only three steps, but they combine in infinite ways such that each dancer dances their own tango. The read/write tools I use on my blogs are few; blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, flickr and chatboxes. But they can be combined in infinite ways such that each teacher can orchestrate their own learning ecology.

OLÉ is the heart and soul of how I blog with my students. RML is the toolbox; the technological literacies. We'll tango for about an hour and half. We'll be ripping, mixing and learning for the rest of the day.

The part I'm most excited about is the fact that four people have agreed to skype in and join the conversation over the course of the day: Sheryl, Dean, Clarence and Anne. You just know that's going to be a party! And a hearty thank you goes out to Mr. McNamar for sharing his tango in the comments to my earlier post.

The last post on OLÉ is called What If Your Blog Was Gone? It was inspired by Konrad Glogowski's recent experience. I solicited feedback from my students by posting two questions for them to answer. Their responses are entirely their own; I didn't prompt them in any way. They did some really powerful writing.

As always, comments and suggestions for improvement are encouraged and welcome. ;-)

It's Catching

The idea has germinated ... now it's growing ... if you could see my face right now ... (smile) ...

Miss Nicholson is Erin's student teacher -- isn't that cool?

S1 MathHiring a Scribe
By Miss Nicholson

Hello there everyone!

I have been so busy trying to prepare fun, but meaningful, math lessons for you that I haven't checked out the blog for a while!

The scribes who have done their duty have been doing a great job of listing the activities that we do in class, and Anne (the scribe before this post), has taken "scribing" to the next level by also including the content of what we learned. This is the scribe's job- to help those who missed class by providing them with the information we learned; and to help those who were in class but who, for some reason, missed an answer or some notes.

So... when it's your turn to be scribe, try answering these questions in your blog:

What did we do in class today?
What did we learn during these activities?
Was this new information or something I've seen in math or another class before?
Was the material difficult or easy to understand?
Is there something that I still don't understand and could ask my classmates to explain?
Did anything else happen during class that would be fun to keep a record of?

That's all for now! Just one quick reminder that your unit test will be on Wednesday!


Anne posted this today:

Bud's post about his accident really made me pause and think. First, I am so glad that he is OK. I know hugging his daughter and enjoying those Christmas lights will absolutely be the best medicine possible..

I've blogged before about how special it is to be part of an "edublogging family", just like I'm a member of my school family. These extended family groups really add much to your life. Educators are a special breed and I am thankful to be a part of the community.

Anne you're so right! I was really moved by the comments left on my blog when my little girl got hurt in June. Again and again this community comes together to support each other in times of need and most often in our learning and teaching. I know when I'm struggling with something in my work I can find support and answers, good answers, from this community. And it's strange, but I've never seen many of you and yet I've come to rely on you in a very real way. One of the things that makes our community special is the open permeable boundaries between the various groups of us. Blogging has really enriched my students learning but more than that, it has enriched my life in more ways than I can count.

Calling all EduBloggers

I'm doing another Rip, Mix, Learn workshop on Friday December 16. We'll begin the day with an overview of how I use blogs and other read/write web tools in my classes; I call that session "OLÉ" -- Orchestrating a Learning Ecology (or Learning the Tango). I'll post more about that session here when it's done and ready for public consumption. We'll also touch on some of the issues surrounding blogging in the classroom that have been the focus of discussion around here for the last little while.

Like last time, I plan to model for the 20 or so teachers participating, how to use the technology by actually having them use it themselves. Lots of play time. (I learned some lessons from the last RML I did. ;-))

Anyway. I was wondering if anyone would like to join in the blogging section of the workshop which will take place starting at around 11:00 - 11:30 am central time. I'd be interested in having some "visitors from afar" skype into the conversation as well. I think Sheryl will be there and I'd love to have Bud, Clarence, Dean, Will, Anne, Mr. McNamar or Jo drop by as well as anyone else who'd like to participate.

Essentially I'm looking for teachers that have used blogs with their students. I'd like you to answer two questions for the teachers in my workshop:

    »How have you used blogs with your classes?
    »What impact has it had on your students' learning?

This invitation is wide open. If you're interested email me or leave me a comment on this post. Thanks! ;-)

Defining The Issues

Miguel has been asking a lot of good questions (here and here) about the harm blogging in schools may lead to. In one post, "What harm can a blog do?" Miguel shares the concerns raised by Nancy Willard.

Bud has also contributed to the discussion with this post.

There seems to be a proliferation of posts and articles coming out about how much trouble students and teachers can get themselves into by using blogs in schools. (see this, this and that) I'm finding it hard to nail down the issues to a concrete list that we can talk about. So, here is the list I've compiled based on what I've seen posted by Bud, Miguel, and others whose links I've forgotten. Read through the list. Lets add to it if necessary and condense it down to the fundamental issues that need to be addressed -- then lets get into it. ;-)

Issues with Legal Consequences
privacy and personal safety
collusion to commit a crime
establish contact with potential criminals (sex related or otherwise)
copyright/intellectual property
discussion of controversial issues (drug use, sexuality, religion, politics)

Issues for Schools
school image

Miguel and I started talking about doing a group podcast on the issues. We'll all do a gizmo conference call (gizmo to make it easy to record and learn something new), choose a moderator and tackle the issues one by one. If you want to participate leave a comment here with your gizmo ID and we'll set a date and time. Before we do that though, let's define the issues.

Habit of Mind

Dean's recent post The Theory of Relativity got me thinking. Dean writes:

My recently adopted criteria of "Relevant, Engaging and Ownership" as a criteria for learning is definitely in its infancy. I've been saying that teachers need to address the ever popular question of "why do we have to learn this?" as part of how we do business .... I can agree that some things we learn may not completely link to our lives but offer a rich experience that will in some way enhance our lives.

He ends his post with:

So there are times when students may not see the relevance but we need to. So if you believe Calculus is going to be important for kids, make sure that at least you know why it's relevant. Stephen Downes says he's still waiting for it to be relevant. Not sure it will ever be.

That's twice recently that I've read the suggestion calculus is not relevant to student's lives. Lots of people feel that way. Whenever I meet someone for the first time and they learn I'm a math teacher they always reply either:

(a) I hated math; or
(b) I like math.

95% of the time it's (a). I think they've missed the point of what an education is all about.

I've been telling my classes for years now that by the time I'm finished with them at the end of grade 12 I hope they come to realize that I haven't really been trying to teach them math; I've been trying to teach them a habit of mind. Studying mathematics is just the vehicle for that purpose.

I think there are a great many courses we take that are not relevant in the way that Dean or Stephen describe. I also think that the educational value in those courses is the "habit of mind" they foster.

The relevance criterion will be a tough one. How do we determine that a particular course has no value? I think there is value in learning, no matter what it is you are learning. The value is in the habit of mind the learning facilitates. Each discipline facilitates a different habit of mind.

For all that, I think showing kids the relevance of what they're learning is to real life helps to motivate them. One question I ask my classes is:

"Y'know all those police dramas where the coroner arrives on the scene and says, 'The victim was murdered between 2:00 and 2:15 am.' How does she know that? Was she there?"

Well, one way she might have done that is using calculus to solve a first order differential equation. Let's learn how she did that. ;-)

The Conversation is Evolving

There's a movement growing in the comments to James Farmer's original post about his blog service getting filtered out by the censors. He sums up the discussion in this comment -- the 32nd of 46 and still going strong --

Thanks to everyone who has commented here, wonderful things, and Josie you’re right on the money.

I think we need an organisation that synthesises what is being said here… that has a clear message, signatories and most importantly can be used by teachers (and students!) to put their case against this kind of rampant and ill considered censorship.

The name, I reckon, has to be something that reflects that. It also needs to be savvy in a pitching sense. It’s got to convey responsibility, learning, openness, freedom, authority (of us), balance and understanding (of why people feel and act as they do). How does this sound:

The Online Literacy Association

I think it’s more of an association than a foundation and I love D’Arcy’s link to this http://www.fepproject.org/news/nrcadopts.html which is spot on about the overriding importance of literacy (learning to swim etc.)

If we can agree on this / something along these lines then I’d like to set up a site at an independent URL like: online-literacy-association.org

In the first instance I’ll chuck up a blog for discussion of the key points, namely: mission statement / blurb (something like four key points about freedom, literacy, responsibility etc.), related articles / literature, case studies / stories (like the excellent one here: http://www.edsupport.cc/mguhlin/blog/archives/2005/11/entry_719.htm), news area (of course ;) and perhaps most importantly ways of making a difference… how we can leverage the group for it to have an impact and how individual / groups of teachers can do the same, something like “your stories” or “getting TOLA to help in your case” (in a similar way a union might advertise its services).

Anyway, that’s a first draft…. tell me what you reckon, I’ll give it a day or two and if all is good go ahead and set up the site.

Also, Bud has successfully ported his blogging wiki to a new server. I'm starting a new section called vignettes over at Bud's place and I'll mirror it at TOLA if and when that gets up and running.

The Conversation that Miguel started has now been drafted/edited by an administrator (Miguel) and a teacher (me). It would be interesting to see a parent who doesn't work in the education field take a crack at editing their perspective into the discussion. It would be even more interesting to see other administrators and teachers continue to edit and evolve this piece. The wiki format that Miguel suggested would save a copy of all previous incarnations of the vignette and I think it would be facinating to see it's evolution over time. Take a crack at it in the vignette section over at Bud's place.

The Conversation

Miguel has another good post up about internet filtering and censorship. I know I said I was going to take a break from this but this topic seems to have exploded in the blogosphere with the advent of James Farmer's relatively new blog service falling victim to the censors.

Miguel wrote a hypothetical conversation between a parent, principal and teacher following a students misuse of their internet access in a filter-free environment. It's really well done but I think if I had been the teacher I would have handled my end of the conversation differently ....


"We're here to discuss your child's behavior on a web site not controlled by the District, but that your child can access during school time. Her access of the site was to use it to bully another child, post pictures from her camera phone, and make vulgar statements."

"Why can my child access that type of web site from school?"

"We don't filter content because we teach students how to recognize the difference between websites that are reliable sources of information and those that are not. We also have very clear guidelines about what sort of online behaviour is acceptable and what isn't." says the teacher. "Your daughter is aware of all this; she helped write the guidelines and then knowingly used school resources in a way that we do not permit."

"Well, could you just teach her without letting her access the inappropriate site and exposing her to a sex pervert?" asks the parent. "There sure are a whole bunch of those around these days. And, how do you know that my child did the cyber-bullying?"

"Your daughter was not exposed to a sex pervert. She used her camera phone and created a web log of her own where she harassed and bullied another student. She knew, as she was doing it, that what she was doing was both wrong and not allowed in our school. We know that she was the bully because everything she did was recorded on her web log and she bragged about it to a group of other students." replies the teacher.

[in an aside to the teacher, the principal says, "Well, how do you know about the connections they're making? They obviously didn't keep you in the loop." inquires the principal. He's reviewing the police report.]

[in an aside to the principal, "as you know Mr. ___ I aggregate all the students blog work and monitor their interactions daily. This issue with _____ came out specifically because my students do keep me in the loop. You and I should continue this conversation when Mrs. __ has gone.]

"Mrs. ___, you should know that this is a very serious issue. Cyber-bullying is against the law and we were required to file a police report. If we can come to a satisfactory resolution of the issue with your help the police may leave it with us. I think that would be in the best interest of your daughter. Young people make mistakes; ____ made one -- the best result would be if she learned something from it and took steps to repair the hurt she has caused."

[parent steps out for a moment]

"I'm worried we didn't do everything we could to prevent this from happening. The District is now liable because we trusted you and you weren't able to keep up with the 150 kids you see every day and what they were doing when you took your eyes off one of them for a moment." said the principal sympathetically.

"I disagree sir. The district is not liable. We have acted promptly and responsibly as soon as we learned what _____ did. This is exactly analogous to any other kind of bullying. If we had ignored it we would be liable; we haven't ignored it. Moreover, we learned of _____'s actions quickly because the other students in my classes were offended at what she had done following all the discussions we've had about acceptable blogging practices in my classroom. But, again, it would be more appropriate for us to discuss this further after Mrs. ____ has gone."

"I know, but the Web isn't safe...they're no longer in your classroom when they're on the Web," replies the principal. "And, by the way, we're going to have to confiscate your classroom computer--the newer one that can connect to the Internet--check it for evidence, make a copy of it, then reformat it." The teacher grimaces. "That's happening as we speak."

Mr. ____ please don't do that until we've had a chance to talk about the issue in a little more depth. I'd hate for this to come to a grievance involving the teacher's association.

[parent steps back into the room]

"You know," says the parent, "You people let my child access a web site where she could post these comments. What was it called? MySpace? At home, I control my child's access to the Internet because I want them doing their homework. I foolishly thought she would be protected at school from bad elements on the Internet. I don't know how any one teacher can control the situation with 20+ students in her classroom at the same time that he is teaching. At home, I told my daughter to be nice to others and not to do this type of thing, but kids are kids and she did it anyway. I'll speak to her again. I'm worried that I trusted you and the principal to help me keep my child off-line, but you didn't do it. After all, when she's at home, I make sure she doesn't go anywhere inappropriate--I unplug the Internet connection--or do these kinds of things at home. She must have done it here on a school computer while she was in your care. What are kids learning here? I don't want her to have Internet access while at school anymore."

"I understand how upset you must be," replies the teacher, "but we can't do that. Your daughter is fortunate to have internet access at home supervised by you. That's not the case for all our students -- we have an obligation to provide them access to the same kind of information and learning that your daughter has. ____ has made a bad choice. That's what's happened here. Now, let's put together a contract about how to prevent your child from doing this again. She'll sign it and we'll continue to work together"

[a contract is put together and prepared for review with the student]

"Ok," replies the parent. "Thank you. In the future, why don't you IM me about that and give me status reports on his/her progress? Do you use Yahoo, MSN or AOL Instant Messenger?"

"I'll email you." says the teacher.

"Instant Messaging is blocked," shares the principal. "We don't allow it because of the SPIM, and/or the viruses that are transmitted via Instant messaging."

"You mean," the parent smiles grimly, "the District blocks IM but not MySpace and those other web sites where kids can do anything, including creating bully-blogs to pick on each other or get stalked by cyber-predators?"

We are not responsible for the bad choices your daughter has made; she is. She wasn't endangered. She harassed and bullied another student." says the teacher.

"That's correct," the principal replies slowly. "We're developing a policy on IM, however. There's been a big debate about the benefits of IM and teachers really want to use this new technology with their students."

The parent leaves. The teacher settles into the chair...it's a long day. The principal stares at the teacher for a moment, sighs, picks up the phone and calls his secretary. He says in a weary voice, "Send the next one in"


It all boils down to trust. The principal in this dialogue, aside from acting unprofessionally towards the teacher, just doesn't trust the teacher. There's an undercurrent of suspicion throughout. An administrator worth their salt would have handled this a little more professionally to the benefit of all involved.

Layout Problems

If you use Internet Explorer to view this site, you've noticed some formatting issues. This post sits way down the page underneath the right-hand sidebar.

Also, regardless of which browser you're using you'll notice the sidebar RSS feed to the ten latest math additions to the MERLOT database has the table stretching out way past the right hand edge of the sidebar.

This is a plea for help to anyone who might know how I can fix these things. I have no idea why IE is so tempermental -- I use Firefox now and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants my opinion; it's free (my opinion and the browser) and, IMHO, the best browser available on the internet right now.

If you have any idea how I can fix my MERLOT box please leave me a comment here or email me. The table in the MERLOT box is coded like this:

<table width=90% border=1><tr><td align=center><font size=-1><b>
Math Teaching Resources from
<a href="http://www.merlot.org/">MERLOT</a></font>
<br><font size=-2>(updated every 12 hours)</font></b> </font></td>
<tr><td><font size=-2>

<!---begin feed from MERLOT math--->
<script language="JavaScript" src="http://jade.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/feed/feed2js.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Frss.merlot.org%2Fpublish%2FMathematics.xml&chan=title&num=10&date=y&html=a" type="text/javascript"></script>

<a href="http://www.kinscape.com/feed2js/feed2js.php?src=http%3A%2F%2Frss.merlot.org%2Fpublish%2FMathematics.xml&chan=title&num=10&date=y&html=y">View RSS feed</a>
<!---end feed from MERLOT math--->


(Psst... Alan... any suggestions?)


A Growing Community of Fearless Educators

I really like the school I work at. In the last little while there has been a real blog growth spurt.

As of yesterday all our administrators have their own blogs!

»Mr. Beaumont, our principal, is blogging at The View From DMCI.

Excerpted from his first post:

Where there is passion, there is hope! Is not our function as teachers to provide opportunity and guidance in the same way that a judicious parent would want? Do we, as parents, not take it upon ourselves to encourage opportunity and the searh for personal excellence in our kids? Do we not teach our children how to be" safe" by teaching them how to be discriminant users and observers? If our function is to prepare our students for the future, why would we insist on teaching them in the same way that we were taught 20, 30, 40 years ago? Blocks and filters don't keep our students safe (actually, they are more for our own benefit, that we are allowed to feel safer.... most of these can be circumvented anyway). I find the position just a bit short-sighted.

»Mrs. Silva, vice principal, is blogging at DMCI talks.

An excerpt from her blog:

When I was in the classroom, I used to have students use journals as a way of reflecting on their learning. I see this as their next step.What do you think about all this?

»Mrs. Zaporzan, vice principal, is blogging at DMCI Perspectives.

Brand spanking new bloggers that have really jumped into the conversation with both feet.

You already know about Erin Armstrong's S1 Math blog. Now she's also got a personal blog called My life in a bowl of jellybeans .... If you've read her stuff at the S1 Math blog you'll understand the connection to jellybeans -- but read her first post; great title, fantastic content! No previews here, go read it! ;-)

»Darrell Mazur, history teacher, is blogging at Mr. Mazur's History Blog. Check out the discussion he inspired in his students with his first post:

The Greatest Leader?
Was it Caesar? Was it Antony, Was it Cleopatra, or Octavius? Some of the above were masterful leaders. Some were crafty politicians. Some were manipulative oportunists.

Who would you want as your leader?

Drop in on them and give them a hearty welcome to the conversation -- they've just started and already they each have a distinctive voice.

A little heads up, I'm doing a blogshop with the math teachers from our school and two of our feeder schools on December 16. The buzz has gotten so loud we've receieved requests from teachers half way across the city to attend so we've opened it up to them as long as we've got space -- I'm expecting 20+ teachers in the room. Shortly after that there may be a few more people in Dean's kitchen; we might start spilling over into the den. ;-)

The Editors' Initiative

The scribe post just keeps getting better. As I've said earlier, the scribes have effectively begun the process of writing a textbook for the class. OK, shelf that.

A recent post of Anne's got me thinking about the importance of reflection.

Now put those two ideas together. If they're writing a textbook then it should be vetted for error's or areas where the material is not adequately covered. It would be a lot of work for me to go back and comment on all the students' earlier posts. Also, I don't think they would go back and edit their work unless they had some powerful motivation to do so.

Hmmm .... how can I get the errors corrected, the content fleshed out where necessary, and minimize the work I have to do .... I also want to motivate the weakest students to learn and do better .... the kids should be working harder than I am .... how can I work smarter, not harder?

On the way home from work it hit me like a ton of bricks! Help me with this folks; take it apart and give me suggestions to make it better ....

The Editors' Initiative
Instead of posting a pre-test reflective comment on your progress in this class you may undertake The Editors' Initiative. Here's how it works:

  » Step 1: Scan through the previously posted Scribe Posts on the blog. Find one that has one or more errors.

  » Step 2: Discuss the error(s) and what you think the correction(s) should be with me. If I agree with your editorial proposal go to Step 3.

  » Step 3: Discuss the editorial change with the author of the post. The author will chose to proceed in one of the following two ways.

The Editor is briefly allowed administrative privileges on the blog. They will edit the post to make any necessary corrections. They then sign the post at the bottom:
Edited by: [name] on [date]
The author will edit the post in consultation with the editor who will vet the author's changes until they are correct. The author then signs the post at the bottom:
Consulted editor [editor's name] on [date]

Students may chose to make more than one edit. Each additional edit will earn them a bonus mark on the next test. Your mark on the previous test determines the maximum number of edits/bonus marks available to you.

Mark on Last Test / Max Edits Allowed
> 90 / 1

80-89 / 2 (1 bonus mark)

70-79 / 3 (2 bonus marks)

60-69 / 4 (3 bonus marks)

50-59 / 5 (4 bonus marks)

40-49 / 6 (5 bonus marks)

30-39 / 7 (6 bonus marks)

20-29 / 8 (7 bonus marks)

10-19 / 9 (8 bonus marks)

0-9 / 10 (9 bonus marks)

You may also assume the role of Content Consultant to earn marks as outlined above. Here's how it works:

  » Step 1: Scan through the previously posted Scribe Posts on the blog. Find one that doesn't provide enough detail or leaves out too much information. Decide what additional content should be added.

  » Step 2: Discuss the new content you think should be added with me. If I agree with your editorial proposal go to Step 3.

  » Step 3: Discuss the editorial change with the author of the post. Together, you will chose to proceed in one of the following two ways.

The Content Consultant will add a new post to the blog inserted at the appropriate time and date. They then sign the post at the bottom:
Additional Content by: [name] on [date]
The author will edit the post to include the additional content provided by the consultant. Additional content will appear under a heading "Additional Content". The author then signs the post at the bottom:
Additional Content Provided by [consultant's name] on [date]

Students may chose to make several additional content contributions for bonus marks according to the table above.

In my mind's eye, I imagine the students scouring the blog for errors and, one-by-one, editing them out and building a better textbook.

Whatd'ya think? ;-)

The Prince of Calculand

Ever since I started teaching AP Calculus I've used the Alvirne High School AP Calculus site (I wanted to include a link to the site but it seems to have gone offline -- a horrible shame and a loss to the entire AP Calculus community. Please let me know if you know what happened to this excellent site.) as a resource for AP level questions to help my students prepare and review for the exam.

For the last few years I've tried, with only lukewarm success, to get my students to do something similar. The process works like this:

We brainstorm as a class to come up with an idea for a mascot. Once that's decided, one student writes a brief story where our mascot gets into trouble. The only way out is to solve a calculus problem which the student must create and solve. Both the problem and solution are handed in for marks and graded using this rubric. A second copy of the problem and solution is given to the next student on the list who picks up the story where it left off and creates and solves a new problem.

The students are encouraged to be creative and introduce new characters as they wish. Also, one student draws a picture of the mascot who begins showing up on tests, quizzes and assignments. Last year's group named their mascot Captain Chris -- one of the students was named Chris. It was a Star Trek themed adventure where the names of the planets they visited were the course numbers of the various classes they were taking. They did some really great work, but getting it all online is a lot of work for me and it just never happened.

This year I got a better idea. Turn it over to the kids entirely. Let one of them make a blog and invite the rest of the class to join. They can create and upload any images they wish. We'll have a second blog for the solutions that you can only get to from the problems blog.

This year they decided to call their mascot The Prince of Calculand. -- One of the students is named Prince ;-) -- Prince drew a picture of him (coming to the blog soon). He has a double bladed sword in the shape of an integral sign and a sigma drawn on his chest. The first student has unveiled her work today. Check out our digital story here; it's awesome!

Distrust Breeds Fear

This will be the last post in what I've begun to think of as my "Fear Trilogy." I think the issues we've been debating here will become increasingly important over the next little while. They will become the bottleneck through which blogging must pass before it can be accepted throughout the mainstream educational community. However, like Miguel, I feel it's time for me to move on.

Some Definitions:

TRUST: Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

TEACHER: One who teaches, especially one hired to teach.

TEACH: To cause to learn by example or experience.

EMPOWER: To equip or supply with an ability.

The issue of trust, related to blocking content on school division web servers, came up in the dialogue between Bud and Miguel that I talked about in my previous post. In a comment to Bud's post Miguel wrote:

We just don't trust our teachers -- to run their computers, to teach information literacy, etc. In Districts with integrated learning systems, lock-step scope and sequences that must be followed religiously, it's clear they are not trusted to even teach. The reasons that happens are legion, but I'm sure you can concede the point that trust is not something teachers enjoy universally in the United States.

I found this chilling.

In the various leadership positions I have held over the course of my career I have paid particularly close attention to the habits and behaviours of people that impressed me as exceptional leaders. One of the most important lessons they have taught me, and their less gifted counterparts have confirmed time and again, is: Trust is empowering; distrust is stifling.

Think back to any job or position you've held where you felt excited about what you were doing; where you felt you were working together with your collegues towards a common goal and everyone's energy in pursuing that goal was contagious. Think also of the converse situation; where you didn't want to leave the house in the morning to go to work. Where every moment you were at work you felt as though someone was looking over your shoulder, waiting to jump on the first thing you did wrong. I've had the good fortune and misfortune to work in both environments.

I've done my best work when my boss had the attitude that the mistakes I made were learning experiences. They had faith and trust in me that I would do better next time and do my best to fix whatever it was I had broken. I always did learn from those experiences. In one summer job I had I was a miserable failure; if anything could go wrong that summer it did. Nonetheless I was invited back the next summer because my boss felt that the experience I had was valuable. I was a superstar that summer. Over the years that followed I rose to the highest position possible in the company.

This is no different in the teaching profession. Those of us who work with administrators who support our efforts to take risks and try something new; something outside the mainstream; something like blogging with our students; feel empowered to accomplish great things. The simple act of an administrator letting a teacher know that they have a firm reliance on their integrity, ability, and character equips them with the ability to provide their students with experiences that lead to rich learning environments. In short, trust empowers teachers to teach.

If a teacher is not trusted to teach then students cannot learn. Distrust breeds fear and fear creates an environment inimical to learning.

As I listened to Virgil and Myrna talk in Miguel's podcast the other day I got the distinct impression that they held opposing points of view. I also got the impression that they had the best interests of their staff and students in mind. Miguel makes this excellent point:

As a director of instructional technology, I'm willing to advocate and support these places of learning. However, as an administrator, I also have to decide in advance, articulate it in policy, what I will do when I encounter the situations you can't imagine--or perhaps will not because of blog evangelism--from your vantage point as a teacher. I cannot be afraid of imagining what may go wrong, as well as what may go right. I must consider every closed door and what lies beyond it.

I agree with Miguel that administrators "cannot be afraid of imagining what may go wrong;" which colours their view of experimenting with new technologies. But it seems to me there's a happy medium for all of us. Virgil and Myrna both said, that if a student misused a blog under the school's auspices and the teacher or administrator didn't address it once they learned about it they would be liable. But that's the key point; the problem arises when students misuse resources provided by the school and teachers or administrators knowingly ignore it. That is irresponsible and worthy of censure. That doesn't entail disallowing the use of blogs altogether -- it means that if someone behaves irresponsibly there are consequences for their bad choices. Those who make those bad choices will get the lion's share of the press, but they are a minority. Most teachers came into this profession for all the right reasons and are genuinely motivated by doing what's best to help their students learn.

Look, we're all on the same page here; we want what's best for our kids. Have a little faith in teachers to make choices that are in our student's best interests. Open up the possiblity of creating rich learning ecologies and when someone purposefully misuses those resources censure them. But also expect mistakes -- that's how we learn. If we don't allow the opportunity to make well intentioned mistakes then we also close the door on learning; and no one wants to do that.

The Fear of Losing Control

As a follow-up to the discussion we've been having in the comments to my previous post, The Fear of Transparency, Miguel posted a podcast discussion between two other technology directors, Virgil Kirk and Myrna Martinez.

Virgil says that blogs can only be used informally, not for instruction, because universal access is an issue. If 12 kids in a school don't have access we can't use the tool.

I would reply that it is the responsibility of the public school system to provide internet access and web 2.0 tools to all children regardless of their socioeconomic background. There's been a lot of talk about Thomas Friedman's book, "The World is Flat." The world is not flat. The world is two plateaus separated by a steep, and in some places unscalable, cliff. It is the responsibility of the public school system to carve stairs into the cliff and make it scalable.

Virgil goes on to say:

"We need to look at this as an instructional tool to get them through the instructional process, that's when blogs become very controlled, rigid and regimented because that's what we do in instruction. Instruction is very controlled, regimented and organized. If that's where your blog fits in it's a wonderful tool. If it's not it does not belong in the school environment. It belongs outside the school environment and there's a way for those kids to use that and that's their power, that's their way of releasing, so that when they're in the school they are concentrating on what it is our goal is to teach them; whether it be reading, math or using technology. The same skills I teach them at how to use a word processor, or how to create a powerpoint, how to create an access database, how to create a web page, are the same skills they are going to transfer when they are at home in their home environment; doing those things at home that we have no control over nor should we take control over."

While I agree with Virgil that good instruction is organized, I find the notion of teaching as a controlled and regimented activity distasteful. There is an element of control in the way I run my class; there is a dynamic, participatory element as well. Students are empowered to make decisions about when and how we do certain activities within the constraints of our common goals (we've got a course to complete) and the time frame (finish before the exam) we have to work with. Real learning is loud and messy and moves forward in fits and starts. Not everyone moves forward at the same pace and some move ahead extremely swiftly; others more slowly. Finding the right balance to meet the diversity of talents and abilities in any classroom is an art. It's a push-me pull-you affair with teacher and students constantly negotiating where they are in the learning process. (see Clarence's recent post) An environment that is controlled, rigid and regimented sounds more like a total institution rather than a place of learning.

A place of learning is characterized by an air of open, sometimes passionate, inquiry. A place where people are safe and free to express their ideas in an effort to grow, learn and acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be a contributing member of the community. I think blogging fits well with such a learning environment. For example look at my classroom blogs (Pre-Cal 20S, Pre-Cal 30S, AP Calculus AB) where the student's voices are dominant. I don't think they would fit the paradigm Virgil describes and I challenge anyone to say that they are not demonstrating how much they are learning each and every day.

Myrna seems to appreciate that. She suggests that a modern research paper will have digital images, video and audio elements. A blog may be just the right tool at just the right time to bring all these things together. Virgil responds to Myrna's suggestion of using a blog to present a research paper by saying that is not what a blog is for. He says: "Blogs are a tool used for people to share ideas." I quite agree. I'm not certain if Virgil realized what he had said. ;-)

The list of technological competencies that Virgil lists in his argument about which technologies are appropriately taught in the schools and which are not (blogs and blogging) strikes me as a little passé. Almost all of those skills are taken for granted in the modern business world. In order to compete on a global scale young people need the critical thinking and evaluation skills that Alan November talks about. (See my post A Lot to Chew On.) Blogs, wikis, aggregators and the growing suite of social and collaborative tools available on the internet requires educators to redefine what technological literacy means in today's economy. Denying students access to these tools is to deny them access to future opportunities. More than that, it means we will have failed in the task of preparing our students for the world of work. The goal is not to get students "through the instructional process;" the goal is to prepare them for the world they are going to live in. We wont do that by locking them, and ourselves, in silos that are disconnected from the tools and skills they will need after graduation. The goal is not to graduate students. The goal is to create opportunities for success after graduation.

Moreover, if the skills related to the older technology Virgil mentions are transferable how can it be the case (implied in his argument) that the skills related to appropriate use of web 2.0 technologies are not? The fact that the world for which we are preparing students has changed requires the we as educators also change -- we've got to change what and how we teach, and students have to change what and how they learn. Anything else is to be left behind by other societies that have already recognized this fact (i.e. India, China, Japan and Singapore).

The one sentiment that struck me most forcefully in the discussion was an overwhelming fear of losing control. Control of students; control of content; control of the process of learning. The thing is, learning has nothing to do with that kind of centralized control. It has everything to do with putting control in the hands of the learner; which is the whole point of web 2.0 technologies.

Miguel, you said that this podcast was in response to what I and others had said about blocking access to content on the internet. I don't see how anything that came out in the podcast helped to support your position. As a matter of fact, all three speakers seem to have the same attitude on that issue: "Blocking if necessary, but not necessarily blocking." The issue of whether or not district administrators trust their teaching staff was also not addressed. I'm still composing my thoughts on that issue. ;-)

The Fear of Transparency

As my classes receive more recognition for the excellent work they are doing on our blogs I find myself more and more often in the position of "blog advocate," or, as Will would say, "blogvangelist."

Whenever I suggest that students, teachers, administrators and superintendents should all have their own blog I'm invariably met with the objection that blogging is too public. Exposing students to blogs and blogging exposes them to porn, violence, and sexual predators on the net. Administrators and superintendents who blog couldn't possibly allow unmoderated commenting because some people would leave vicious and virulent comments -- we have to protect our students and ourselves.

Bud has been thinking about this for a while now in the context of school districts blocking access to websites. He and Miguel have been dialoguing about it.

Will commented on Bud's blog:

We cannot protect our children all the time in every way. We can, however, teach our children to help protect themselves. That's not happening in this instance.

Miguel responds:

The statement that we cannot protect children all the time in every way is a straw man. The truth is, we are obligated to protect our children as much as possible within our power to do so. We can also teach them to help protect themselves. They are not mutually exclusive points as implied in the comment.

In Miguel's podcast he says:

MySpace.com, as a whole, is not an appropriate resource; it is not an appropriate venue or meeting place. It's like saying; "Let's go down to the local bar where you can meet new friends and other people. You can meet other teenagers there." Would you rather your kid went to the bar to meet people or to a church? ...... It's the idea that schools would sanction or allow kids to go meet in virtual spaces that have inappropriate content. As a district administrator I can't allow that. There's no way that I would allow students in classes to use blogging environments, or podcasting environments, or places that allow them to publish who they are with pictures, sound, and text and put themselves out there in a place that is inappropriate.

Miguel goes on to take the perspective of a classroom teacher who would advocate for students having access to blogs and podcasting tools to facilitate their public voices. He also says, as a district administrator responsible for technology he would want to help teachers achieve these laudable goals. But, in the final analysis, Miguel seems to feel that blocking access to websites is a necessary evil -- necessary for the protection of students, teachers, administrators and all district personnel.

I disagree.

The argument Miguel presents in his podcast strikes me as a straw man. I don't think there's a teacher out there, using blogs or podcasts or other web 2.0 tools in the classroom who advocates or allows students to "publish who they are with pictures, sound, and text and put themselves out there in a place that is inappropriate." As a matter of fact, those of us who do blog with our students go out of our way to protect their identities. (see Bud's wiki, Steve's contribution, my post and Clarence's post.)

The fact of the matter is that filtering content results in the school environment being disconnected from the reality we are supposed to be preparing students to deal with. Historically, the response of educational institutions to new social technologies, like IM and blogs, has been to keep it out of the school. In effect, we've created these protected silos divorced from the rich social interactions these new technologies facilitate. It is not the case that students are therefore kept away from using and interacting with these technologies. It is the case that they use these technologies in all the inappropriate ways Miguel mentions.

Blogs have received a lot of bad press. People have been fired or lost jobs because of them. When a new job applicant is googled and their blog is found to contain critical comments of colleagues and former employers, prospective employers do not hire them. That's good business. That's the result of irresponsible blogging. Saying negative things about other people in a blog is tantamount to walking into the staff room and shouting out to everyone present "Joe is an idiot! Yes, you Joe sitting over there with your cronies. And y'know those morons in the office? Let me tell you, they're so dumb they have to have their autonomic functions crank started each morning!" The speaker should expect to be censured and fired. The problem is not with the blog -- it's with how the tool has been misused.

Twice today I've heard people compare this argument in defense of blogging as similar to the argument against gun control: "Gun's don't kill people, people kill people." The arguments are not similar. Guns are weapons. A weapon is an object created for the purpose of killing or causing harm. Blogs are social tools. A social tool is created for the purpose of facilitating and enhancing social interactions and connections. No comparison.

As for the notion that comments on administrator, teacher or student blogs should be moderated, well, that's to miss a golden opportunity to teach and learn. (See Anne's post Inappropriate Comments = Teachable Moments.) Miguel says: "We can teach our students to avoid predators without having them actually encounter one." Quite right. Open Commenting (not)= Encounter Predators. I have discussed with all my students and my son (8 years old and also a blogger) how we will respond should we ever receive a nasty or inappropriate comment:

(1) Tell me about it.

(2) Recognize that the comment isn't really about you; it's about the person who left it. If someone comes along who reads the good work you've done learning and can only think of something nasty or inappropriate to say, well, that doesn't really say anything about you. It does say a whole lot about them.

(3) We delete the comment and forget about it.

I think that lesson is the same for everyone, from students to superintendents.

All of this boils down to a natural fear of transparency. Going public, or in the case of blogs, global, with the work we all do in education can be frightening and intimidating. We all fear being judged negatively when we take a risk and try something outside the mainstream. It would be quite a blow to my ego and self-esteem to be told that I'm a terrible teacher. Making my process in the classroom transparent opens me up to criticism and, like you, I don't like to be criticized. On the other hand, being aware of my shortcomings engenders and encourages growth -- I become a better teacher. I have learned more about teaching and learning in the last ten months then I have in the previous ten years; all because of blogging. Everything I've ever done that has helped me to become a better teacher has been the result of taking a chance -- taking a risk. Taking risks for the purpose of growing and learning is something I try to teach my students in the classroom every day. If I don't take risks myself how can I possibly teach my students to do so? If administrators and superintendents (our leaders) don't take risks, how can they possibly expect teachers to do so?

I work with a couple of Fearless Leaders. ;-)

The Importance of Education

Last Friday I had the good fortune to attend a presentation by Alan November here in Winnipeg; "The Emerging Culture of Education." I always enjoy Alan's presentations because they serve to do two things:

(1) Showcase a variety of technologies and how they can be strung together and employed meaningfully in an educational context.

(2) The emphasis is not on the technology. It's on how the technology facilitates powerful learning experiences. Alan refers to this as "Infomating" rather than "Automating" -- accessing, sharing, distributing and internalizing the necessary skills to work with vast quantities of information.

I was caught a little by surprise when Alan asked me to step up to the front of the room and showcase some of my classroom blogs. I hadn't planned on presenting that day. ;-) It was fun though and the people in the room seemed genuinely interested in what my classes are doing. Later, I felt a little awkward when someone raised their hand to ask a question. Alan stopped to let them speak but the question was for me. ;-)

We had a chance to chat briefly afterwards and Alan invited me to do a podcast with him. We'll be skyping each other some time soon to set the date and time. I'll post it here when it's done.

Alan always tries to stretch our thinking a little. He likes to present ideas that "are good enough to criticize." This time he reiterated something I've heard him talk about before -- that the family has to get involved in teaching and learning. He had a really good idea from a school in Northern England (I forget which one now). The teachers got together and made instructional videos on writing. They sent them home with the students to watch with their parents as homework. The response and results were dramatic. Parents who had never come out to parent/teacher interviews were calling the school asking for more of these videos. The school went from being the lowest performing school in literacy in the district to being the highest performing school.

I think this is a bigger issue though. In the context that I teach in I have some tough questions that need answers:

  • »What about our growing ESL population whose parents speak a different language? (I think we have over 50 different languages spoken amongst our student population.)
  • »What about our growing refugee population who not only lack language skills but are suffering from culture shock? (A student told me he couldn't understand how water was coming out of the wall when other students put their heads down but it wouldn't work for him.)
  • »What about kids whose parents feel their kids are a burden and can't be bothered to have anything to do with them? (A colleague called home about a student's absenteeism. The parent said: "Tell someone who cares.")
  • »What about our kids coming from underprivileged homes?

Let's define underprivileged: no food in the fridge, bed is a mattress(?) on the floor, parents on welfare spend the monthly check on cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets, sometimes drugs. How do we get these parents to buy into the importance of education?

The Mind Boggles

I just finished reading Erin Armstrong's blog, S1 Math and I LOVE her blog! She has two grade 9 classes and each class makes up a name which they use in interclass competitions. Their names are "Flamingo Souffles" and "Octopus Brownies." Erin created this story about aliens landing desperately in need of knowing all about operations on polynomials. Her kids are the experts and they save the day.

The adventure begins with The Aliens Have Landed and the students save the day with Aliens... HEAR MY WISDOM!! and Multiplying Polynomials.

Erin insists that the kids use proper spelling and grammar and they have to vet each other's work for errors.

Now that there are two of us doing this in the same building there are some real implications for the future which Erin has already alluded to on her blog. Kids who graduate from her class will arrive in their next class with a very different set of expectations about how to learn math. More than this, as blogging becomes a matter of course the opportunities for learning by linking blogs across the grade levels will grow exponentially. Kids will have access to a wealth of free information, resources and online tutoring that will not only change the definition of what it means to be a teacher but what it means to be a student.

Now stretch this idea a little further. What will the face of teaching and learning look like when we link between blogs not just within a school, but across the globe? Students from Winnipeg learning with and from their peers in Alabama, Australia, Belgium, England, Scotland, India, China and Japan. Anne would say "the possibilities are limitless!" For me, the mind boggles.

Lunch in Alabama

Sheryl and I have been corresponding and skyping since she helped me out with my Rip, Mix, Learn presentation in October. She's involved in some fascinating projects with her students (pre-service teachers) and she introduced me to a new web tool, Tapped In. I have to spend more time exploring its possibilities. Sheryl is also spearheading a technology integration initiative in Alabama.

Yesterday Sheryl did a presentation for 180 teachers in Alabama and invited me to join the conversation via Skype. It's not often I can visit Alabama over my lunch hour and be back in class in time to teach my grade 10 class. ;-) It was a real thrill. While Sheryl navigated websites in Alabama I took them on a tour of my classroom blogs and discussed the powerful impact these community building technologies have had, and continues to have, on my students and myself.

At one point I was discussing Aldridge's scribe post. He's done something that no one else in this class has done yet. He had his graphing calculator draw various graphs and downloaded them from his calculator to his computer. He then took it one step farther. He edited the graphics and labeled them with equations and other important features. Now a lot of teachers using graphing calculators know how to copy graphs into their computers and a lot of people know how to edit pictures once they're in the computer -- but Aldridge taught himself to do these things. The other kids are going to be impressed and this fairly quiet and reserved young man will be a star for a while as he teaches these skills to his classmates. More and more now, when students email me about how to work with digital images I refer them to other kids, sometimes kids in a different class. I told the teachers in Alabama that if the kids know the technology better than me then I don't need to know how it works. If any of you want to know how to do this stuff, ask them -- they're nice people, they'll tell you. It's incredibly empowering for a student to take on the role of teacher or expert with their peers; even more so with their teachers.

I also heard myself say: "If you see value in learning these skills for yourself you should see what happens when you put these tools in the hands of the students!" I was going to point them Sarah's Blog to underscore the point. If anyone from Alabama is reading this, check it out -- you'll see what I mean. Keep in mind Sarah does this because she wants to. It's not part or her course requirements; it's entirely her own initiative.

Sheryl asked me how I would respond to someone who says: "We don't have time for all this writing in math! We need to focus on teaching and learning so that these kids can learn more math." Well, that got me started. ;-) I pointed them to my earlier post here, The Scribe Post and then I said: "Anyone who looks at my class blogs can't deny that my kids are learning, talking about (in the chatbox at midnight on a weekend!) and writing mathematics. How do you find the time? How do you not find the time! Now that you know this technology exists you have an obligation to provide these learning opportunities to your students. You don't have to find the time, you have to Seize the Time!" and I pointed them to Anne's post. (I always direct people to Anne's work when this issue comes up -- thanks Anne; that post has become a powerful "learning object" for the people I meet in my milieu.)

Just before I signed off Sheryl asked me how I would feel if these teachers wanted to visit my classroom blogs and leave comments. I would LOVE to have them leave comments for my students. As I've said elsewhere, imagine the impact you can have on a young person you never met just by leaving them an encouraging comment. The role of a teacher has really gone global. Some of the Alabama teachers wanted to know if I would be interested in having one of my classes Skype one of theirs. I would be very interested! Email me and let's get it started. ;-)

Bloglines - Teaching for How We Remember

Interesting article about teaching and memory from the Eide Neurolearning Blog. I emailed here from my Bloglines account.

Teaching for How We Remember

By Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide

We're heading off to the National Association of Gifted Children Convention, so we'll be away from the blog for a week. Expect our next post November 14th.

Functional brain imaging seems to be a great way to learn how we remember, so what does it imply for teaching?

Studies show that we will remember best if:

1. We have a personal reaction (emotion, empathy) to the material.

2. It's something new (repetition inhibits novelty-associated memory).

3. It's funny.

4. We're make decisions about the information (i.e. not passively read or watch)

5. It evokes imagery.

These concepts are familiar to many teachers, but how often are they the first tools a teacher, tutor, or parent reaches for when students have fallen behind? Motivation can play a huge role in mastery and memory for material, but we may have more impact on students than we think.

The brain study below shows the difference in brain activation depending on whether subjects were ask to make a decision about what was presented ("pleasant" or "unpleasant")- i.e. task memory vs. just memorizing information in a list. Just by having to relate to the information personally, brain activation for memory encoding and subsequent remembering (not shown here) shot up.

Wow, what a difference. This supports the benefit of "active reading" and think-aloud strategies and self-questioning, as well as lessons presented with playfulness and novelty.

In some cases, a student's greatest block may be that he doesn't know why something should matter to him. Some of the middle school malaise is a feeling that school has become a monotonous hamster wheel of deadlines, requirements, pointless memorization. Students may need to be energized "pre-discussions" that whet the appetite, novel or interesting tidbits or different views on lessons, and directed instruction that connects new information with real life or individual interests.

What this also implies is that teachers should be allowed to learn more about the real-world applications of the information they are given responsibility to teach. Here in the Seattle area, the University of Washington has programs for science teachers to learn from UW biologists. What about other disciplines - say math? law? business? computer technology or engineering?

We'll close with a quote from that excellent educator and observer William James:

"In mature life, all the drudgery of a man's business or profession, intolerable in itself, is shot through with engrossing significance because he knows it to be associated with his personal fortunes. What more deadly uninteresting object can there be than a railroad time-table? Yet where will you find a more interesting object if you are going on a journey, and by its means can find your train? At such times the time-table will absorb a man's entire attention, its interest being borrowed solely from its relation to his personal life. From all these facts there emerges a very simple abstract Programme for the teacher to follow in keeping the attention of the child: Begin with the line of his native interests, and offer him objects that have some immediate connection with these."

William James on Interest
Miall -- Emotion and the self: The context of remembering
Content, Novelty, Memory, and fMRI
Journal of General Psychology: Contextual Connections Within Puns: Effects on Perceived Humor and Memory
Think-Alouds Boost Reading Comprehension

A del.icio.us Idea

This idea has been knocking around in my head since it was first suggested two months ago at Alan Levine's blog. This weekend serendipity smiled. One of my students emailed me with a good link for our class .... a door opened .... so I posted this on all my classroom blogs ....

I recently received this email from a student in another class:

Hey Mr. K.

This is one of the websites I was looking at that had simplifying radicals..


I found a few that I thought were good just by typing "radicals" in google, they really helped me out.

See you Monday,

Students often find more, and better, sites than I do. You're better websurfers than I am. ;-) That got me thinking .....

I spend a lot of time looking for good websites that help us learn in this class. But what if we all spent a little time doing that? What if there was an easy way for us to both save our bookmarks (without cluttering up our favourites list) and share them with the whole class with the click of a single button? And what if we could access those bookmarks not just from home, but from any computer in the world? Hmmm .....

Well, there is an easy way to do that! Instead of saving bookmarks on your home computer sign up for a free account at a site called del.icio.us. You can then access them from any computer in the world. You can easily install a little button/bookmark that allows you to save any webpage you're looking at without interupting your surfing. Tag it using this tag:

[apcalc] or [pc30s] or [pc20s]

Now we can all get each others bookmarks with the click of a single button in our del.icio.us accounts.

I'll go one better than that. If you all jump in on this idea, I'll write a post on our blog (with a permanent link in the sidebar) that will load the 10 most recently saved links automatically as you find them. I'll also include a link to the archive that you can browse at your leisure.

If this interests you (and I can't imagine how it doesn't) read this tutorial on how to get started with del.icio.us. You might also be interested in watching this screencast that illustrates just how powerful this web tool is.

When you've signed up for a del.icio.us account (register here) leave a comment on this post telling me so. When I see some action here I'll blog that self-updating post. ;-)

Now let's wait and see what unfolds .... ;-)

The Scribe Post

About a month ago I wrote about Scribes & Chat, saying I would post again about the impact daily student scribes is having on me and my classes -- this is it. ;-)

The original assignment was simply to post a brief summary of what happened in class each day. A different student is responsible for the daily scribe post and they end their post by choosing the next scribe. The first scribe was a volunteer. My daily involvement is limited to updating a post called The Scribe List which is at the top of the links list in the sidebar of each class's blog. For all three classes this takes less than five minutes of my time each day.

My original goals with this were humble -- my students have really taken control of the process and far and away exceeded my wildest expectations.

My students have spontaneously been challenging each other; each scribe typically tries to outdo what the previous scribe has done -- particularly in the grade 11 class. Compare the first scribe post to a more recent one. (Grade 10: first scribe, recent scribe. Grade 12: first scribe, recent scribe.)

When a student is scribe they take particularly good class notes and think deeply about what they learned that day. The process of writing their scribe (we've created a new use for that noun) forces them to reflect on their learning and work to articulate the lesson as though they were teaching it. The paradigm in medical school is "watch it, do it, teach it." My students have brought that paradigm into our classes. Students have told me that they spend upwards of an hour composing their scribe post -- that's a lot of deep thinking to do for just one class! Since the work is distributed across the entire class I guess they're more willing to invest a lot of time once every few weeks -- they all come out ahead this way.

They take real pride in their scribes and want it to look good and impress their classmates. I've told them numerous times how they've blown me away, or in my vernacular, "knocked my socks off!" -- I finally had to admit in one comment that I no longer had any socks. ;-)

There have been tremendous benefits to me as well. I've become a better teacher. I know that someone is going to write about what I do in class each day -- I had better make certain that they have material to work with! ;-) The scribe posts have allowed me to see how and where students are struggling with the material. Face-to-face, some students say they don't understand anything from a particular lesson. But when they have to scribe that class we both learn they understand a lot more than they thought they did. This has allowed me to provide detailed and focused feedback to a student to: (a) help them learn and (b) give their self-esteem a boost because I can honestly say they have a better grasp of the material than they thought. Contrast this to the typical oral feedback I get from underconfident students: "I don't understand any of it."

The scribe post has also resulted in students taking greater responsibility for their own education. When the scribe is late getting their post up comments begin to appear in the chatbox; "When is the scribe going to post? Where's the scribe?" Part of this is because the only way for a student to find out if they are resposible for the next day's scribe is by reading the blog -- it's never announced in class. But the scribe tends to "feel bad" if they don't get the post up in a timely fashion and they frequently include an appology to the class to that effect. Recently, one student had computer trouble and didn't get his post up. He came to me, of his own volition, the next day and said "Mr. K. I'm sorry about not getting my scribe up so I'll do yesterday and today because it wouldn't be fair to assign a scribe at the last minute in class today." In my grade 12 class a scribe was uncertain of whether or not they should scribe a class because they "got in trouble" that day. The students arranged between them, outside of class, who would be the scribe each day for the next week! Missing a scribe post isn't an option because the whole class is waiting for it; they have expectations of each other and they are rising to the occasion.

Of course, one of the most obvious benefits is that any student who misses class can easily find out what they missed -- now they even get a complete, student generated, online lesson! This has also made things easier for me when a student is sick for a couple of days or is away from school for any other reason -- all their classes are in the web log. Also, anyone who didn't follow what was taught in class gets another student's perspective on it and can get even more help in the chatbox.

Recently I was explaining to another teacher how the scribe post works in my classes. I heard myself say, without realizing it, "The students are writing the textbook for the course together; one day at a time."

Senior 1 Math Blog

Erin Armstrong teaches grades 9 and 10 math at our school. Yesterday I introduced her to Furl and Blogger. Today, while most of her grade 9 students were participating in Take Our Kids to Work day, she started her own classroom blog, S1 Math. It looks beautiful and Erin's personable touch immediately comes across loud and clear in the way she writes. Yes! Another math blog in the blogosphere!

Erin is one of the most creative teachers I know; I look forward to seeing how she mixes the technologies together. This'll definitely be a blog to watch. Drop by and leave her or her students a comment -- I know she'll appreciate it.

Yesterday she said she'll start with just the grade 9s. Today she told me she discussed blogging with her grade 10 class. I think we'll have yet another new math blog before a week is out. ;-)

What Mathematicians Think

Earlier this month Jan Nordgreen at Caymath posted about an interview of a couple of professional mathematicians talking about their work. Here's one quote.

Isadore Singer: ... when I try out my ideas, I’m wrong 99% of the time. I learn from that and from studying the ideas, techniques, and procedures of successful methods. My stubbornness wastes lots of time and energy. But on the rare occasion when my internal sense of mathematics is right, I’ve done something different.

Another quote:

Michael Atiyah: My fundamental approach to doing research is always to ask questions. You ask “Why is this true?” when there is something mysterious or if a proof seems very complicated. I used to say — as a kind of joke — that the best ideas come to you during a bad lecture. If somebody gives a terrible lecture — it may be a beautiful result but with terrible proofs — you spend your time trying to find better ones; you do not listen to the lecture. It is all about asking questions — you simply have to have an inquisitive mind! Out of ten questions, nine will lead nowhere, and one leads to something productive. You constantly have to be inquisitive and be prepared to go in any direction. If you go in new directions, then you have to learn new material.

The full interview is right here.

These are two things I find myself constantly belabouring in my classes when teaching problem solving:

  • »Take risks! Experiment, play, try something out and see where it takes you. Good math isn't knowing what to do with any problem -- good math is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. ;-)
  • »Ask questions! If you don't ask questions then I can't tell whether you understand or not. I'll either go on to something new, leaving you confused in the dust, or go over and over something you already understand trying to help you but really just wasting our time.

I'm going to cross post this one on all my classroom blogs. ;-)