Make'em Laugh!

I like to tell jokes in class. My favourite question, when I finish explaining a particularly difficult concept, is:

"Any questions, concerns, complaints, confusions, uncertainties, anxieties or other general inquiries? Any good jokes?"

It lightens the atmosphere and seems to make my students relax and learn better. I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Anyway, I told my students I had learned that "Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning." So if you get "that bad feeling in the pit of your stomach" while doing your homework or studying for a test take a Humour Break (Thanks to John Evans for the link) or watch a sitcom for half an hour. Longer than that would be procrastinating. -- There's a new link in the [Links] list on all the class blogs. ;-)


In an earlier post I wrote about how blogging positively impacted some students who "graduated" from my classes last semester. Alan Levine left this comment:

Thanks for sharing these stories-- I was looking for what I think were your November posts when prepping for these sessions as worthy discussions of "What Happens at the End of a Course Blog?"

Hopefully it is an evolving practice where the examples you describe move from extraordinary to ordinary.

At the same time, I am curious about the kids who have the experience but have not taken such leaps.

I too hope the practice evolves from extraordinary to ordinary. I also hope that when blogging classes become more pervasive students in those classes continue to exert the kind of efforts they are now; hopefully the class blog experience wont become old and passé. I think that as long as the international community of blogging educators continues to participate in each other's classes, providing students with an authentic, learning focused, global audience students will continue to produce "world class" work.

Alan's last paragraph is an important one. In every class I teach I have students that do not make the effort to learn. Blog or no blog, they may show up to class physically, but that is all. There's not much I can do other than provide opportunities for students to learn. I try to encourage, cajole, inspire and give motivational speeches to try to get my students to take learning seriously. In the end, the decision lies with each individual student. Some of them simply refuse to engage in learning. Why is that? I suspect it's strongly connected to the push vrs. pull paradigm of education that Will wrote about a while back. Our current system aligns with the push paradigm:

"Learn this because one day you just may need to know it."

"Really? When do you think I'll need to know the quadratic formula outside a math class?"

No matter how I encourage kids to pursue an education, some, perhaps many of them, wont because they don't see the value in it. The idea of acquiring a habit of mind is foreign to them. Some of this is cultural. North American culture doesn't truly value education and has little respect for educators. (You just have to look at how governments allocate tax dollars to education. And when they cut education budgets also look at how the population at large reacts.) Teaching is not widely considered a profession, and hence, teachers are not widely seen as professionals. In some communities teachers aren't even trusted to teach.

But, I digress. I originally sat down to write about a student who dropped my class on Monday. She dropped the class "because of the blog." "I don't like computers," she said. One mark on every test comes from blog work. And their scribe posts (they have to do about 3 or 4 over the entire semester) counts for 5% of their class mark. These are easy marks to get. As long as the student does the work they get full marks. If they don't do the work they get zero. She had decided she would not participate in the blog and didn't want that decision to impact her grades.

Her situation was further complicated because her parents had disconnected the internet at home. Her younger sibling abused it; he would play on the internet and not do his school work. I had arranged for her to have a special student account at school. She could use the school's computers to do her blog work. This meant that she would have to use time from her spares or lunch hours to do her blog work. I guess she felt it was all just too much of a hassle.

I was a little taken aback by all this. A student dropped my class because of the blog. This was a first. I began to second guess myself. Should I have a blog supported class if some students are so turned off at the idea that they drop the course? Students drop classes all the time. How many this year had dropped my class because of the blog but hadn't told me so? (Students who drop are usually there one day and gone the next.) I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback about the class blogs. One student who refused to participate throughout last semester's Pre-Cal 20S class finally came on board for the very last blog post of the semester. What he wrote was so powerful that it is being published in a print magazine. Nonetheless, if the blog is pushing students away maybe it's not such a good idea after all.

I spent the next two days mulling (agonizing?) this over in my head.

On Wednesday the young lady came to see me again. She had discussed her decision over with her parents. Together they decided that the way my class was structured (my instructional and assessment practices but also the blog) would better prepare her for university. "Can I please come back?" she said. I said yes.

Not all our students are digital natives. I wonder how many of them are disinclined to take a course because there is a blogging component. I wonder how many students would withdraw from a class because of the blog. And is this decision based on their academic objectives or is it a result of ennui?

A Difference Goes Multilingual

I received an email this weekend from Regina Nabais asking if I would be interested in participating in the "Blog Translation Carnival." The students in my school collectively speak over 50 different languages so I'm very interested in increasing accessability to the students work in their parents native tongues. Here is an excerpt from the email:

I made a suggestion for a session on bilingual blogging at BlogHer in July, which, within a week has sparked off a blog translation carnival from Liz Henry and aspirations for getting Google sponsorship for a one day workshop somewhere round San Jose, California with an IRC going in several languages!

Anyway the blog carnival sounds interesting and this is how to join in, if you want to translate:

1. On the day of the Carnival (28th Fev, feriado por acaso) you translate one post by another blogger, and post it on your own blog with a link to the original.

2. Email Liz Henry with the info. who will compile one big post on the day of the Carnival with links to all the participants.

3. You can translate any blog entry that was posted in the month of February 2006. It can be your own blog entry, if you like.

The info. Liz needs is:
your name
name of your blog
your blog URL
post title in target language

name of blog you're translating
name of person you're translating
that URL
the post title in the source language

Liz also points out:
"You should get permission from the person you're translating to post your translation of their work. I would also suggest that you might introduce your translation for the target-language audience, and provide some context if you can."

Well, this sparked a memory of something I read over at Leigh Blackall's blog about translating all his blog posts into several different languages with the click of a single button. More than that, the translated pages are are indexable and google searchable so people can find your stuff in their native languages. When you consider that over 65% of web users speak a language other than English you begin to appreciate the power of this functionality.

I hunted through Leigh's blog all the way back to June of 2005 to find the post where he explains how he finally made it work. You can do this yourself too. It's as easy as "copy and paste." You do have to fiddle around with the placement of the code in your template by "previewing" your edits until you have it placed right where you want it. The original graphics for the various languages were larger than I wanted; I changed them to height="12" and width="18".

I've played around with the translations as well and some of them translate the entire post, including comments, others leave some bits untranslated. If you click on the white arrow it will continue the translation.

Since I don't speak many of the languages A Difference is now available in I was wondering if any speakers of these languages might drop me a note to let me know how good the translations are. I'm particularly interested in the quality of the Portugese, Korean, Chinese, Italian and Spanish translations. Click on the icons below this post to translate it into:

French, German, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, Japanese, Korean or Chinese (Simplified).

If these translation tools work well then I'll add this functionality to all my classroom blogs and hopefully give more parents greater insight into what their children are learning. Maybe it will even encourage them to play more of an active role on the blogs. ;-)

The community I work in has a large Filipino population. Thanks to a little encouragement from Chris Harbeck I figured out how to add an English to Tagalog translation. All the little arrows that pop up offer alternative translations for each word. The last flag on the right is from the Phillipines. Thanks for the push Chris!

UPDATE 2 (Feb. 25, 2006)
I've received some feedback regarding the quality of these translation tools. The Chinese is surprisingly good. The French and Portuguese have some awkward grammar but can be understood. The Tagalog (te-gah-log) is unintelligible so I've removed it. Apparently the words are Tagalog, but the grammar and word choice conspire to make the translation nonsensical. I've replaced the Tagalog tool with Dutch as I've noticed I've been getting hits from the Netherlands. Please email me or leave me a comment here and let me know how good the Dutch and other tools are. Thanks.

The Artful Comment

The scribes in my classes continue to do outstanding work. I'm continually impressed by the depth and quality of the student's scribe posts. They work so hard on their scribes. Why do they do that? Most high school students look for the easy way out; "How can I get by with the minimum amount of effort on my part?"

The instructions I give them are fairly straight forward: "Write a brief summary of what we learned in class today. Include enough detail so that someone who was away sick, or missed class for any other reason, can catch up on what they missed." This semester I've also explicitly said: "Over the course of the semester, the scribe posts will grow into the textbook for the course; written by students for students. Remember that as each of you write your scribe posts. Ask yourself: 'Is this good enough for our textbook?' And remember, you have a global audience, impress them." ;-)

I think the greatest motivation to write well on the blog comes from the comments I leave them and they leave each other. But the comments they receive from "outsiders" are far and away the most powerful motivator of all. The "farther away" the commenter is, the greater the impact they have. Also, when they collect comments from diverse places around the globe the impact is greater still.

There's an art to leaving students a good comment. I'd like to share my thoughts on what makes a good, or artful, comment and I invite you to share your two cents as well (or tuppence as Ewan would say).

The Artful Comment ...

  • »... is always expressed using a positive tone.
  • »... if critical, is both gentle and sandwiched between positive statements.
  • »... is very specific when giving praise. This creates a sense of authenticity and believability in the comment.

    This is a good scribe post Nikki. I like the amount of detail you included. It will be really helpful for anyone who missed class and for everyone when it comes time to review for the test and final exam.

    Way to go!

  • »... may be brief or lengthy but leaves the author of the blog post with the sense that the commenter is "on their side" and genuinely interested in their success.
  • » ... The Artful Comment (2 minutes 18 seconds): an excerpt from a longer podcast I did five weeks ago where I discuss my style of commenting on student's scribe posts. The scribe post discussed in the podcast is Scribe for Today!!
  • »...

Your tuppence?

Blogging is a Class/Classroom Activity ... for now

D'Arcy blogged a summary of Thursday's Social Software Salon at the Northern Voice Blogger Conference in Vancouver. One of the thinks he shared was the nature of blogging in the classroom.

Blogging is not a classroom/class activity

We talked about the current implementation of blogging in the context of a class. Someone mentioned that a student may have 5 different blogs - one for each class - and must post content to each blog in order to get “credit” for their work. And, at the end of the semester, the blogs are nuked from orbit. So, not only is a student’s work divided across several quasi-related locations, it is so closely tied to the Class that in ceases to exist after the Class is over.

But, what we’re hoping to approach is the mythical “lifelong learning” - if content is tied to a Class, that implies that Learning occurs only in that Class. And that learning starts from scratch in the next Class. And for the following cohort.

While I agree with the better part of all the sentiments D'Arcy summarized I think the idea of each student in a school having their own blog is more a vision of the future than a reality of today. Which has implications for "Blogging is not a class/classroom activity."

What we've got right now are pockets of blogging teachers around the world connecting and learning from each other through their personal blogs. The blogs that students have in school are more or less limited to the class in which they have a blogging teacher. There's a better chance that their next teacher will NOT be a blogger. And even if they are a blogger, they may not yet be using the tool in their classes. So, for the present, blogging IS a class/classroom activity -- and a fairly uncommon one at that. What we hope for is that our students take their learning forward into their next classes with them. If the teacher doesn't provide the learning ecology, then perhaps they will build it on their own.

There is no reason that a classroom blog needs to be "nuked" out of existence at the end of a course. As a matter of fact, that strikes me as a sort of vandalism. Leave the digital content online; there's room for all of us out here. Moreover, students in the next class, taking the same course, can refer back to the work done by the students who came before them, learn from and build on it -- taking another step down the road to life long learning. (I can hear Newton whispering something about the "shoulders of giants.")

I very much liked the vision of the future D'Arcy wrote about. In my imagination, in the very near future, each student will have their own blog and each class will as well. A fundamental feature of each student's personal blog will be several feed windows coming from each of their class blogs (along the lines of They will be able to consume and contribute content on the fly, multitasking not just within a single class' learning environment but across all the learning content generated by their teachers and classmates in all their classes.

The technology exists to do this today. Right now. All free. We're not there yet though. What will it take?

Paying It Forward

This past week has been really hectic and I haven't had a chance to blog. I'm really aggravated that I missed out on Alan, Brian and D'Arcy's Social Software Salon on Thursday. It sounds like it was a blast. Anyway, tonight I stumbled across something and had to blog about it.

Back in November I speculated about what will happen when kids leave blogging classrooms; the impact it will have on the kids expectations about learning and how a (math) class is "supposed" to operate. How will they affect their teachers?

In December I presented the first incarnation of my OLÉ (Orchestrating a Learning Ecology) workshop in response to requests from teachers in my school and one of our feeder schools. A friend started his own class blog as a direct result of that workshop. (One of the students had explicitly asked him to in the comments to the OLÉ post What If Your Blog Was Gone?.)

He's not implemented "scribe posts" as a regular feature of his class as yet (although a few other teachers have) but he's got about 10 students of mine from last semester's Pre-Cal 20S and Pre-Cal 30S classes. This week they started spontaneously posting scribe posts to their new blog. They referenced material from last semester's Pre-Cal 30S blog and the math dictionaries they generated last semester.

Another student, a master of the positive comment, who is not taking math this semester has solicited my friend to join his blog. He posted:

Hi fellow bloggers. If you don’t know my name… My name is Richard. If you don’t know why I’m here… Then… I don’t either. But anyways. The main reason I’m like on your blog is that I’m here to help you guys. Yes as impossible as it may seem. I’m here on the blog. So live with it. I actually passed this course last semester if that’s so hard to believe. I know it is for me. But in other cases I’m just around to help the fellow bloggers blog and to give at least a tiny bit of incite into every thing you do on the blog. Yes I’ll be commenting allot and allot and that means allot. I’ll also be posting up allot of blogging tips and crazy help from myself the remnants of the first semester bloggers. Who knows… A study group may get back together again. Hahaha. Well anyways. I just wanted to say hi and bye. I’ll be back…

Oh yeah. Here’s a tip for Mr. Malandrakis… Make a chat box. Because it’s actually a good study tool and it creates a classroom outside a classroom. ;) And... If you want to read the course... Then.. Read PC30S first Sem. It's all there. There's some intresting posts there too. You know... Pop goes the weasel... Hahahahaha

Richy Out.

(Richard alludes to the pride he has in writing the textbook for the course with his classmates.)

Another student also asked for a chatbox to be installed. And yet another student, who has never been in a blogging class before, is being positively influenced by his more experienced blogger classmates.

I can't help but feel proud of how my former students are paying it forward but I think this is just the first sign of something deeper that has taken hold and is growing.

No one can take away from these kids what and how they have been taught. If their learning environment is not orchestrated for them they orchestrate it for themselves. The main thing they have learned is not the technology (although there is no denying they have learned that too), they have built a learning community that has extended beyond their classroom walls. They have learned the power of collaboration and, most importantly, they have learned how to learn. Not only can this not be taken away from them but they are leveraging the power of their learning community to spread it to others. What a great way to end the week!

UPDATE (Feb 15, 2006)
Mr. Malandrakis has implemented scribe posts as a regular feature of his classes. But the kids are the ones who generated The Scribe List and are updating it every day!

Isn't It Ironic?

Today was the first day of the new semester. The old blogs are staying up but I took down the chatboxes. It felt like I was vandalizing the blogs -- didn't feel good. Next week the chatboxes go live on the new blogs, after we've had a chance to talk about the ethics of blogging. Strange feeling. I put them there but it doesn't "feel" like they're mine to take away. Of course, they are; it just doesn't feel that way.

My classes did projects last semester. Three students came to pick up their marked work. I found one of them (88%) in the trash can in the hallway. That got me thinking ... if their work had been digital there would have been no reason to throw it out. But would it have had greater value to them?

I've done two blogshops this week. (More about them later.) In both workshops I emphasized that when kids do their work on blogs and engage an authentic, global audience they often extend their work beyond the class in which it was created. I sighted the examples of Chris Burnette's kids at The Clem and a recent example in my class where a student researched and posted work after the class had ended, while he was studing for exams, in order to respond to a commenter from Australia .... then I found that project in the trash. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?