Quickly – for those 2 or 3 of you who are still reading / subscribing:

I’ve changed homes – yay! Please come visit me at my new space: http://www.adriennemichetti.com/blog

I’m very happy to have been with Edublogs all this time but I must say their lack of features and my increasing need for more space to expand my portfolio really just propelled me to self-host.

I do hope you join me in my new space! It’s looking pretty simple at the moment but stay tuned and check back often as there will be SEVERAL changes in the coming days and weeks! I’m very excited to share with you and hope to see you there!

A

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?a dark or sweet yeaR by 27147
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It’s not in my normal way of doing things, to review the year and sum up all I’ve done professionally, in a public manner. Nor do I usually follow The Rules of blogging and prepare a standard “looking back” post at the end of the calendar year. I’ve never done it before and really was not going to do it this time.

But…

But…

But…

2009 was not an easy year for me — one of the most difficult on record, actually — and sometimes it is the pain that helps you realize just where you are and where you might be going. Pain can be a powerful motivator.
Not that I am really motivated by pain to write this — it’s more accurate to say that the pain has allowed me to see more clearly. And so I felt it appropriate to do some public reflection, as a way of documenting this small but significant moment of clarity. We’ll see how it goes…

I began 2009 hoping for a fresh start from a tumultuous end to 2008. While 2008 was not a terrible year, it ended with much uncertainty and emotion — I had resigned my position at UNIS, but not yet submitted applications to grad schools, and had no idea if I would get in. I knew big changes were ahead, and was scared to death about what they would be. On this blog, that fresh start to 2009 meant a post about my visit to Green School in Bali, Indonesia. That post came about as I finished up my time in Ubud at an incredible yoga and meditation retreat with two of my favorite teachers (read more about Twee and Rebecca if you are interested). It was a magical time, refreshing, energetic, full of learning and personal awakenings. And my visit to Green School woke me up also to some of the realities of the dream of providing an ideal school. I only wish I could return to Green School in January 2010 to see how far it’s come since my last visit. Alas, that will have to wait.

The early part of 2009 was full of more reflection for me on some areas vital in being a good teacher: assessment, understanding arguments, and the importance of communication. In my case, the latter was focused somewhat on communication via Twitter, the main point of access into my PLN for me. I participated in the Great Tweets challenge and found myself opening up to new conversations with new people about issues I really cared about.

During the next few months, many changes occurred: I was accepted into NYU and began planning for a massive move from Hanoi to New York; I attended EARCOS Teachers’ Conference in Borneo and began implementing some professional development changes at the school I was leaving; Jeff over at U Tech Tips graciously invited me to join the blogging team there.

I began thinking quite carefully about changes still to happen in education — the kinds of changes that I believe are long overdue. I was becoming a bit soured in this education game, most likely because I was looking ahead, knowing that I was leaving the teaching side of it for a while. For several months, I felt discouraged and wondered if I should just leave the teaching profession altogether, because dammit — this revolution was taking way too long.

I took a rather long hiatus over the summer — from June to September, in fact. I took one last big trip around Asia — a very memorable one. I visited Hoi An, Bali, and Thailand on my own, visiting friends along the way but spending a lot of time alone. I was fearful of the changes ahead of me, as I tried not to allow that fear to overcome me. I distinctly remember a conversation with Gaby in Bali about The Next Chapter. I listened intently as Gaby coached me over coffee about the importance of writing the words on the blank pages ahead. I knew she was right, but knowing it and being ready for it are two different things.  The summer was difficult.  Leaving Hanoi was painful. Being in “no man’s land” without a home for 2 months was also difficult.  I was in transition, waiting for visa papers, one of my cats died, and I was in the process of moving my 3 bedroom house into a 250 sq foot apartment in Lower Manhattan.

i sprung forward way too fast by squacco
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Once in NYC, I also was struggling with the changes that come with going from having had a rather decent salary for the past 11 years, to now having no income and watching my bank account dwindle. That, ladies and gentleman, was one of the most difficult challenges for me in 2009. Not to mention the complete lifestyle change that accompanies it — and being a student again, to boot. Suddenly I had all this time on my hands, most of it unstructured, and had to read, annotate, highlight, submit, write, align, research, diagram, create, and present things I had never done before. This semester kicked my butt a little bit — and perhaps it needed some kicking. I can say now, though, that I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made in my first semester as an M.A. student, and I am eagerly awaiting the next semester’s challenges. In the past 4 months I have learned an incredible amount about designing for education, using technology. In fact, I will write a separate post about my learning in that domain because there is so much for me to process and debrief on before the next semester begins that I think it warrants something distinct, and should not simply be lumped in with everything else in this post.

But while we’re on the topic of learning, here are the top 10 things I learned in 2009, in no particular order. Note that I am keeping this on a professional / academic level; my personal lessons will appear elsewhere, likely on my Posterous blog.

  1. Keynote is one damn fine piece of presentation and creation software.
  2. It is possible to teach yourself an application in a short period of time, and be functional with it, if you are a quick and dedicated self-learner.
  3. Change within educational organizations is slow, and my experience has taught me that this is because admin, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders are often skeptical, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally lazy. Find ways for the skeptics to remain, for the uncomfortable to be comfortable, and for the lazy to leave, and you have a recipe for a potentially innovative environment.
  4. My students have been — and I hope they will continue to be — the best teachers. Ever. They are real, down-to-earth, and much better at communicating than many adults I know.
  5. Assessment and Evaluation at the tertiary level still has a very long way to go to becoming fair, accurate, transparent, and equitable. I realize it does in many secondary and primary educational institutions as well, but I was rather shocked at how archaic it still is at university level, particularly in the Faculty of Education at a prestigious private college!
  6. All the best intentions in the world still do not create the ideal school. So many factors are necessary to good school design. I’ve learned this from observation, experience, and my attempts to Be The Change. I’ve not completely given up — no way — but I do feel now after 11 years in 6 different schools (and having worked with many colleagues from countless other schools) much more confident in my understanding of all the ingredients necessary to Create The Change.
  7. Good design is crucial to any one “thing” ‘s success — from a Starbucks travel mug to a school district, from software to salary structures. Design is a concept I think I previously underestimated. I now feel like it is an important and often overlooked aspect of education at all levels and layers.
  8. Technology can be a catalyst, but not the reason, for change in education. The world is the reason.
  9. Education in the USA is a political monster. In fact, most things in the USA are political monsters, and my still-evolving belief is that politics are a major factor impeding growth in social and humanitarian causes in the USA. This is also something I greatly underestimated before living here — and my parents have lived in the USA for a long time, so I thought I understood the issues. My current point of view is that until Americans are ready to put politics aside, real and genuine progress in the areas of education, health, immigration, and many many other areas will never happen.
  10. One of the best ways a person can learn about him or herself is to travel. Yep, it’s true. I always suspected this, and therefore my lifestyle reflected it, but now, having not traveled so much recently, I can certainly say it’s changed how I learn. Visiting other cultures, learning other languages, dealing with things outside of one’s comfort zone is the best education one can have. I can confidently say that nothing else is so mind-opening. I would like to see K-12 education acknowledge and integrate this philosophy somehow in a widespread manner. Dreaming? Perhaps. Worthwhile? Absolutely.
  11. (OK, so there are more than 10!) I miss teaching. I really, truly miss it. So I guess I won’t be leaving it altogether, because I have really missed those interactions with young people on a daily basis. In many ways, I feel as though teaching is something I am meant to be doing — it almost feels like a calling.

And I think that’s all I need to say for now. Oh — but no. There is one more important thing as I wrap up this post and this year:

THANK YOU.

My growth has not been in isolation. So many of you in my PLN have contributed to my learning, and I am so lucky to have found you all. For this, I am full of gratitude. My cup runneth over.

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[note: this was originally posted April 30, 2008 -- back when I apparently used to blog more often. I'm resuscitating it as part of a #edublogBT meme begun by Jon Becker]

All this talk about writing, grade books, and “the unthinking habits of grading” has given me so much to think about. My mind is swimming.

The thing is, I think about this stuff all the time. It is only recently, after reading hoards of comments and postings (and all the bits in between) that I begin to understand my naivety. Or is it ignorance? (Hint: not everyone thinks about this stuff all the time.)


First, a bit of background, for the sake of context

I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and attended Catholic, publicly funded schools. The teachers I had, with two notable exceptions1, all used criterion-referenced assessment to grade my work. I always (other than with the two notable exceptions) knew how I was being graded, even if they did average my scores and turn them into percentages. I graduated from an unusual work-at-your-own-pace high school in 1992.2

After completing an English Lit degree on the West coast, I entered Education. I did not realize at the time (1997) that the program I was in was progressive compared to most Ed programs out there. Thinking, ignorantly, that what I learned was what all teachers-to-be learned, I eagerly entered the world of K-12 education, armed with what I thought was Everything A Beginning Teacher Should Know.

One Epiphany (of many)

Fast-forward to 2001: I entered the realm of international education, working at an MYP school. Before this moment, what I knew about MYP could have filled an ant’s mouth. Sitting in an MYP training session, my then-mentor flashed the subject-specific criteria for Language A (MYP’s equivalent to English Language Arts) on a projector screen.

Thought #1: “Hey, that’s cool! That’s the same criteria my grade 7 teacher used to grade my writing, and it’s the same criteria I have always used to assess student work.”

[insert hmms and haws of other training participants here, as they ponder the criteria on the screen]

Thought #2: “Wait… doesn’t everyone use this?”

It wasn’t long after Thought #2 occurred that I learned the answer: No, not everyone is using this. Plenty of conversation and interaction with my then-colleagues (from various backgrounds in education, as expected in an international setting) taught me that what I had taken for granted my entire (short) life was indeed not “the norm.”

The Interim and a Confession

Over the past 7 years, plenty more colleagues, students, and their parents have shown me that other ways of assessing are indeed rife and plentiful. Just yesterday I engaged in three different conversations with three different families about this very topic (parent conferences were timely). Witness a verbatim quote from one of those discussions:

“Wow, this is so different from what we’re used to. You mean you want your students to come show you their work before they finish? You won’t take points off?”

[I won't even get into the connotations implied by the use of the words "want", "before", and "points."]

Don’t get me wrong — I do not think the same way about this issue as I did 10 or even 3 years ago. I have learned more than I can express on this small page about how to assess meaningfully. I have spent many, many teacher days fantasizing about not assessing at all, and like Dana Huff, I still have those days. I am guilty, in past years, of assigning my students the most boring five-paragraph essay you’ve ever read, just so I could be bored to death reading it and they could be bored to death writing it.

A Question … and Answers?

I have offered some of my thoughts about assessment before — indeed, the reason I initially began this blog was to reflect on what I was learning in an IBO PD course on MYP Objectives and Assessment. Now, having learned so much, I feel my philosophy of assessment is still evolving, and I do think long and hard about why I assess my students’ work and how I do it.

(And, please know that I mention MYP only because I feel it is one of the best educational systems out there for student learning. Is it the only one? No. Are there others that do the same? Yes. Is it just about best practice? Yes.)

So here’s the thing: I know there are other methods of assessment. I know about them well enough because I took the required courses in university, and I have seen them used in classrooms. But here’s what I still don’t understand — and please don’t mistake this for a rhetorical question:

Why are we still using them? (Do they facilitate learning?)

I’m starting, today, with just this question about criterion-referenced assessment, but know that I’m not limiting my thoughts to only this aspect of assessment. I anticipate that those thoughts — and more questions — will follow as my assessment philosophy further evolves.


Mid-evolution

So far, here is what I believe. Assessment is…

  • primarily for learning; the assessment of learning is secondary.
  • real and not “fabricated” just to put a number on a paper or in a box.
  • goal-focused, and those goals should be based on where the students are at in their learning.
  • varied, with a wide variety of opportunities given for students to reach their goals.
  • frequent and woven into every aspect of what we do, while we are learning. (I am uncomfortable with the thought of students being either too excited or filled with dread at the mention of assessment; I want my students to see assessment as something we do all the time.)
  • part of the natural learning process, not something tacked onto the end.
  • not driven by reporting terms, boxes that need to be filled, administrative software, or any other nonsense that has nothing to do with the learner.
  • applied when needed for learning, and not at calendar dates specified a year in advance.

1Okay, so really it was three notable exceptions. And they were notable because they were exceptionally bad teachers. I’m not naming names, it’s water under the bridge, yadda-yadda-yadda — and the truth is I learned many life lessons from these poor teachers.

2The dates are important, because I refuse to believe that the concept of criterion-referenced assessment is “new” and “progressive“. The dates, although applicable only to my personal experience and not bodies of research, further give credence to my personal belief that education is painfully, mind-bogglingly slow to change.

Photo Credits: Nice Hat by cwalkatron; Question mark by Leo Reynolds

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I have been noticing lately that since I don’t have a TV, I spend much more time in my Google Reader. I feel like I am reading MUCH more lately, in general, but it’s been nice to have time to actually peruse the items in my reader that before, I used to gloss over.

However, I’ve noticed that rather than get to all those posts from The Guy/Girl Who Posts 12 Times Daily, I am find myself looking forward to reading those posts from The Guy/Girl Who Posts One or Two Nuggets Per Month. What I mean is, while I thought I’d be happy about spending more time in my reader because I’d finally have time to read all the stuff from the people who seem to have tons of time to do nothing but write blog posts, I’m finding that these people — the ones who post incessantly — are not the ones whose blogs I look forward to reading.

Why?

Well, I’m starting to think it’s because I favor quality over quantity. Just because you’re writing all the time does not mean you’re writing something good all the time. Some of it’s good, and some of it isn’t. In fact, I’d venture to say that of The Guy/Girl Who Posts 12 Times Daily, about 20% of those posts are worth reading. Granted, even 20% of 12 each day still more than The Guy/Girl Who Posts One or Two Nuggets Per Month, but which posts are staying with me later? which ones am I remembering?

The ones from The Guy/Girl Who Posts One or Two Nuggets Per Month.

Isn’t that interesting?

And I find myself really excited when I see something new from Nugget Guy/Girl in my reader, whereas when I see stuff from 12-Posts-A-Day Guy/Girl, I kinda find myself groaning about how I’m going to have to sift through all the post titles to find what’s actually valuable. And even being worth reading is not the same as lingering in my mind and causing reflection.

I’m still thinking about how and why this all is, and may post a follow-up at a later date… just thought I’d record my thoughts while I had them.

What do you think? Do you, like me, seem to prefer reading Nugget Guy/Girl over 12-Posts-A-Day? Or is it not possible to generalize? What makes specific posts in your reader stand out?

Striped Bachelor by Matti Mattila

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From a scholarly article I’m reading (emphasis mine):

“The software was subsequently enhanced to include an open data architecture that allows users and curriculum designers to create their own data libraries.”

My question: Why is software being designed BEFORE curriculum? Why is the assumption that curriculum designers will design around the software? Am I the only one who feels that there is something wrong with this?

The article:

Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D.N., & Pea, R.D. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3&4), 391-450.

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Screen shot 2009-11-28 at 1.10.16 PM

I snipped this image from a PDF of a scholarly article I’m reading about a new tool (at the time) that was designed for inquiry-based learning in science classrooms. The actual article and the actual tool are not important, but the challenge listed here is. I should note that this challenge (or some form of it) was mentioned at least 4 times throughout the article.

Although the article is more than 10 years old, it highlights so many things that I think are wrong with the current state of tech in education.

What do you think?

Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve recently been reading quite a bit about games in education. The ECT program at Steinhardt has an entire course on games, and I have to admit I’m not all that keen on them (simulations are, in my mind, a different but related genre, by the way). It’s not because I don’t think they have value; I absolutely do. And it’s not because I dislike playing them; while I would never colour myself with the Gaming Crayon, I definitely like to play, but rarely for extended periods. After an hour I tend to lose interest, and I’m not sure why. However, I will admit to having spent more than my fair share with the Nintendo Wii (which I specifically did not buy because I knew I would never study), and my all-time game definitely has to be Tetris. I’m also a big fan of the classic ’80s Atari games like E.T., Frogger, and PacMan. I like playing games more with other people than by myself, and I definitely see their social value. Many of the articles I’ve been reading for Frank’s class have lauded educational games because of their problem-solving features, their adept story-telling and story-weaving, their promotion of positive emotions, and many other features that help explain, on a cognitive psychological level, why games help foster learning. And I understand that games can be totally, wildly fun and involving and still teach. I get all of this, and for the most part, I agree with it.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago why I don’t think games will be big in schools, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you why. I simply haven’t been able to articulate the reason why I don’t think they will ever really be incorporated and integrated into schools.

Until now.

I read this article by Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Madison-Wisconsin and Dmitri Williams at the University of Illinois: “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as ‘Third Places’.” (BTW, you can see the article with my highlights and annotations via Diigo here, in case you are interested.) The article is about how online games, in a social-networking kind of way, provide “Third Places” for users to hang out, share, explore, and learn. I totally agree with this comparison. The article goes into depths comparing various games and users to the definition of Third Places as defined by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.

The epiphany happened for me when I read this quote (emphasis mine):

First and foremost, third places are defined as neutral grounds where individuals can enter and leave as they see fit without having to ask permission or receive an invitation (as one might in a private space) and without having to “play host” for anyone else. Compare, for example, weekday attendance at the workplace to happy hour attendance at the neighborhood tavern. The former is a second place, marked by financial obligation and rules that structure who is expected to be where and for how long; the latter is a third place, marked by relative freedom of movement. [. . . ] To oblige any one person to play requires that explicit agreements be entered into by parties (much like making arrangements for a recreational team sport), since the default assumption is that no one person is compelled to participate legally, financially, or otherwise. Unless one transforms the virtual world of the game into a workplace (e.g., by taking on gainful employment as a virtual currency “farmer” for example, Dibbell, 2006; Steinkuehler, 2006a) or enters into such agreement, no one person is obligated to log in.

Do As I Say by Viewmaker
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And then it hit me: I think this is why we will never see games take off in current schools. The game cannot be the Third Place because school is a Second Place. Students are required to be there, required to participate, and marked by rules that structure it.

So, it’s my current belief that until schools are reformed into neutral grounds marked by relative freedom of movement, we’re not likely to see games become something big within them.

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How would learning look if we applied this principle to everything that had to be learned, anything that was “good for you,” but that wasn’t fun? Is it possible to apply “the fun theory” to all learning? Can we be creative enough designers to do this?

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I’ve been a fan of Jeff Utecht‘s for some time, and having worked in the EARCOS region for several years, I was eagerly anticipating his post where he would share his latest conference idea: a tech cohort within the EARCOS Admin Conference. You can read all of Jeff’s reflection here, but what really stood out to me is what he said about engagement and presentation being so key in the use of the backchannel chat. Basically, during the first keynote session, the backchannel chat was off-topic and active. The second day: a completely different scenario — the backchannel was on-topic and relevant to the presentation.

To me it was a fascinating look at how engagement and presentation of information leads to learning. It also leads to the discussion in the classroom why some teachers stuggle with students getting on Facebook and others don’t have any trouble at all. Here were administrators who came to the second keynote with all intentions to “screw off” in the chat room…and yet they found the information and presentation so engaging that it didn’t happen.

What Jeff says about engagement and presentation being key to learning really resonates with me. I have been reading about several different cognitive theories of learning and how they apply to using technology in education. Gavriel Salomon was one of the academics (in the ’80s and ’90s) who was saying pretty much what Jeff just narrated: that technology itself cannot simply imply the learning, but that mindfulness needs to be applied for it to be relevant. It sounds like what Jeff is saying in his post is that in the first keynote, the content was not engaging nor presented as something for learning — and therefore the backchannel chat was not aiding learning, either. But on the second day, the keynote was all of these things, and therefore the backchannel was, too.

by a href=

now what? by dak under CC 2.0

This is part of the reason that I get a bit concerned when educators look to that next “great tool” to help them with all the learning in their classroom. At times I wonder if they want the tool to do all the work for them, as if the tech or media itself will facilitate learning. While this is sometimes true, particularly with software that has been developed specifically for learning, most of the time we are taking tools which have been created with other goals in mind – such as productivity, or content manipulation, or sharing ideas – and trying to make them fit into our learning goals. I don’t necessarily see this as always being a bad thing, but sometimes I feel like the learning is lost at the expense of the tool, because educators are not mindful of the environment needed for learning. As Saloman, Perkins, and Globerson (1991) said, “One can plan, design, experiment, and simulate in ways not possible until now. But does this partnership make students any smarter, better skilled communicators, or better skilled learners (or alternatively, less skilled) as a result?”

In turn, what this means is that without mindful, pedagogical use of a tool on the part of the teacher, we then get students who use tools just for the sake of using them, and not in a way that is mindful. This applies, I feel, whether we are talking about Voicethread, or GoogleDocs, or a calculator. They are all tools that allow us to redefine or restructure the learning task, but they do not implicitly demand effort of our mental processes. It is reminiscent also of this conversation on Wes Freyer’s blog, about how simply having the technology does not mean that students are going to learn.

One of the things that drives me most crazy is when a teacher comes to me saying, “I’ve just heard about this great new thing called [fill-in-the-blank]! It sounds so great! How can I use it in my classroom?” I know that often my colleagues come to me because I seem to be using all sorts of “new cool tools” that perhaps they are not, and so they come to me in earnest, wanting to know how they, too, can enhance learning in their classrooms. But asking a question like this is putting the cart before the horse. What many of these teachers do not realize is that I arrived at that “new cool tool” by asking the question the other way around: “Hey, I really want my kids to be able to [fill-in-the-blank] by the end of this unit. What kind of tool will facilitate that?” … and thus begins my search. And whatever “new cool tool” I’ve used, I’ve tried to support it with scaffolds, differentiation, and mindful learning activities that allow students to think and reflect about what they are learning. I’ll readily admit that it’s not always successful, and I usually can tell right away when I’ve chosen the right or wrong tool for the job, but my learning is a work-in-progress, too, right?

So really, what I wonder is, technology aside:

Where is the meta-cognition in our teaching and learning? When are we thinking about thinking? When — and how — are we asking our students to do the same?

Reference:

Salomon, G, Perkins, D.N., & Globerson, T. (1991). Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies. Educational Researcher 20(3), 2-9.

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We’ve been asked to critique the Sesame Workshop’s Panwapa site, a “global awareness curriculum site” for 4- to 7-year-olds, according to Sesame’s press pageScreen shot 2009-10-20 at 1.42.55 PM

When you first arrive on the site, one of the characters instructs you to click the globe to explore, and so I did. This led me to a place where I could create my own Panwapa kid, apparently. I did not know what this meant, but I signed up anyway. I created my own Panwapa kid and my own house, too. Both were pretty-customizable. However, even a 7-year-old would have had difficulty with all the choices, and most certainly would need guidance from an adult while doing this. (It turns out this thought would reappear throughout my short Panwapa experience.) I also was struck with the thought of how many of the customizable items — food, crafts, and clothing, for example — were rather stereotypical. And I further wondered about the value of these stereotypes in an interactive game for pre-schoolers. Do we want all 4-year-olds to think that everyone in Asia eats only rice? Perhaps I’m over-simplifying, but it is worth considering.

After creating my own Panwapa kid, I was shown the map of all other Panwapa kids. I did a bit of exploring, but that got boring really quickly and so I decided to click the “Treasure Hunt” button. This invited me to a game where I had to find other Panwapa kids who liked certain things. There were three rounds:

  1. Find a Panwapa kid who likes traditional American dolls.
  2. Find a Panwapa kid who likes sharks and ice cream.
  3. Find a Panwapa kid who likes sharks, ice cream, and tennis.

For each level, I had to click through many (like, more than 10) kids to see if they were a “match.” I am not sure if there was an easier way to do it, but I did so by clicking on the “Activities” and “food” buttons, and then scrolling through the kids to see what they liked. It took some time, and wasn’t all that engaging, except that I was praised by the character every time I got something correct, which was kinda nice. And at the end of it all, I got a Panwapa card for my collection. It wasn’t clear to me, however, what I could do with that card later.

I also viewed the movie game, as per Frank’s request (clicking on the little bug’s film projector). This was so confusing to me. I did not realize until the end of the film that the goal of the film was to garner appreciation for learning another language, and going to school. I thought, as I was watching, that the film was more about the marginalization of the Maasai people in Tanzania. After all, Moses says, “We are not allowed to speak our language in school” and he talks about how learning this second language was hard, but it got easier. Yet, the little bug character at the end says something to the effect of, “Did you see that? Moses learned another language to teach his community!” as if this is the coolest thing since sliced bread. What I was thinking was that obviously Moses was sent to school as a fortunate one in his village — I doubt all kids in Tanzania are going to school, especially minorities like the Maasai. And he was probably sent because he is a male, and there was probably an expectation for him to teach his community because he is probably one of only a few in the village who get to go to school.

At the end of the film, the “game” begins: watch the film again and whenever you hear Moses speak Swahili, click on the Panwapa button. What??? I gave it a shot. Apparently he does this 4 times, but I only heard / saw 3. And I am an adult who speaks 4 languages! How on earth would a 4-year-old be able to get that? If the goal of this section was to teach appreciation for other languages, I definitely think it could have been done differently.  Further, I wonder if this “appreciation” lesson is age-appropriate for 4- to 7-year-olds.

It was not until after I played these games and clicked around did I find out what Sesame Workshop’s goals were for this site, and I have to say I was really surprised. Apparently Panwapa is meant to :

[help] children gain empathy for others while encouraging a broader international perspective.

You can read more detailed information about Panwapa’s educational framework here [pdf].

Frank asks, “Does it hit the mark?” My answer, as an educator: No.

It does, however, do a few things well. I identified the following problem-solving features in my brief (20 minute) exploration:

  • question posing (these were peppered throughout the treasure hunt)
  • identifying relationships (implicit in the treasure hunt)
  • gathering information (definitely actively used in the treasure hunt)
  • interpreting data (at the end of the film there is a graph provided about where other Panwapa kids go to school)
  • scanning for clues (in the film game)
  • ability to explore (this is huge, especially on the home page — and it should be, as almost all learning for this age group should be exploratory, in my opinion)
  • identification of pattern and sequence (in the film game)
  • choices – multiple answers (in the question at the end of the film game)

Other things it does well: in terms of affordances of the interactive technology — this is quite good. It was almost always clear as to what the interactive features do. E.g. if I click on the globe I will go to a map; if I hover my mouse over a character, he will speak; etc. In this sense, I did not find it difficult to navigate. However, I am not sure I could say the same for a 4- to 7-year old. In particular, I wonder about the home page, as there is so much to look at and click on. I wonder if it is too much for a wee person of that age; it could be overwhelming and end up being disjunct with no lessons learned at all.

I guess I’m not saying that Panwapa is a total failure, but no, it does not hit the mark.

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