Posts Tagged “learning”

?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.




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:


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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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.

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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?


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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I’ve tweeted it before, last time back in June:

I regularly ask my students to reflect on their work and our class in general. Embedded in this reflection task is my not-so-subtle request for feedback on how I’m doing as a teacher: Are you learning something? If so, what?

… and I hope that the answer is something along the lines of what I think I’ve been teaching. Honestly, the response usually is, and so I give myself a pat on the back and move on.

But every time – and I do mean every time – I ask my students for feedback, I get at least one surprise, sometimes several. In fact, now that I think about it, I realize that perhaps this is the main reason I continue to ask my students for “please-may-I-get-inside-your-head” feedback: because my students (especially the middle-schoolers) always surprise me, and I get such a thrill from it. I mean, yes – I am asking for feedback to inform and guide my teaching. Everything from next week to next year is considered and reconsidered as I chart, graph, and make notes about what my students have said. But sometimes I am merely charmed by the simplicity and honesty of my students comments. Further than that – and this is when it really gets good – is when I’m challenged by them.

My mid-year feedback and reflection requests are very open and not at all numerical, incidentally. I allow students to respond in any number of words, in a Zoomerang online survey with an open text box. You can see here what my questions look like.

Note that if you’d like to see an entire sample survey, check one out here – you’ll have to fill something in the boxes to get past each page but don’t worry; I’m pretty sure I’ll know you’re not one of my middle-schoolers!

I’ll share some examples from the most recent batches, submitted this week, as we roll into the second quarter of our school year at UNIS Hanoi. First, Rebecca in 7th grade, who knows what she is getting from English class, as she responds to my first sentence-starter, What I have definitely learned this quarter is…

I learned how to write good blogs by using textual evidence and refering to what the author is doing. When i read ‘Dragons Gate’ in class learned alot about how hard it was when the chinese had to go work in America and how it affected their lives.  When doing DLAs i have also learned important grammar rules like when you are talking about a book or a movie, play that is named you have to either put it in italics or underline it.

(You’ll notice that I’ve typed Rebecca’s comments “as is.”) Not only is Rebecca able to articulate what she’s getting out of our English class (remarkably concise for a 7th-grader!), but she obviously also knows herself as a learner and she decided to share this tidbit with me, too, when prompted with Other thoughts I have that will help Ms. Michetti help me to learn:

I am a visual learner and i find it hard to learn things or understand things when they are presented in large blocks of text.

Initially, I was concerned about this and wondered what that meant for learning in our classroom (by nature of the subject area, rather text-heavy). A conversation with a different Rebecca (@FrznGuru, a member of my PLN on Twitter) made me realize I needed to chat with Grade-7-Rebecca to find out what her reason was for including this tidbit of info:

So I chatted with Grade-7-Rebecca. Turns out, she’s not bothered by the amount of text in our class; she was quite open in telling me that she’s having no problems in English A class with our texts, but wanted me to know for any “future projects or things like that” so that I could help her by giving her visual cues. Fair enough!

My primary concern was wondering how to help a visual learner in a course where the strands of writing, listening, reading, speaking, and representing are also important, but Rebecca seemed to understand this quite well and knew that although reading and writing might not be her strengths, she needs to work on them. We ended up having a thorough (and useful, at least for me) conversation about learning in English class.

Other than Rebecca’s generous comments, I get plenty of tidbits from students offering suggestions, which I note, as to how I can help them and others learn more in class, such as these articulate ones:

Other thoughts I have that will help you helpme learn, are having reading classes. I really enjoy them, and it is nice to take a short break once in a while. We are then ready to learn after having a short break.


I think spending a bit more time explaining what you need to do for blogging in the unit, such as the fact that you need to post your roles on the blog before each meeting would help me understand the unit quicker.

Both of the above examples are comments I appreciate very much because they are reminders of the finer aspects of my teaching I need to be mindful of as I plan.

Ah, but what about those comments that really make me go, “Hmmmm”? Next, an example of a student who challenges me to do more:

I think we should do more activities that are off our bums! I want to move more in english, and play games. I’m sure more people would like that too :) It’s also a really entertaining way to learn! I also think that we could interact with more groups of people. If we get to talk with our friends it MIGHT (yes, I’m saying MIGHT) make us feel like English is more enjoyable, so we will look forward to it more than we already do! :)

So now I understand that perhaps in our first quarter, for this student, we weren’t doing enough to physically move around and socialize. And I’m already thinking, How can we move around more in our next unit, and beyond? These are the kinds of comments I love because they really do challenge me to reflect on my own practice and make changes to adapt to my students’ needs.
Other gems I appreciate are the comments where one of my students tells me that what they’ve learned this quarter isn’t in fact related to any of our curriculum content, but rather is about how they learn or why we learn. Some examples:

I have defenitly learned how to properly blog and reflect in this unit. I have also learned that when your in a group or group work going for one thing that you should make sure that your all on the same page or else if you contradict that person then the person that is assessing you they might see that your not prepared.

And this one from Grade 8:
In this quarter I feel that i have really got a better understanding of the topic theme: ‘Identity and Belonging’. I also feel that I have also learned more about myself in a sense that I have gotten to appreciate books such as ‘The Outsiders’ more.

Of course there are always the “Life is so hard” adolescent whinges here and there, like this one from Grade 9, in response to the sentence starter “What I don’t like about this class is…:

I didn’t like that we did not read the book, Animal farm, very often in class even though we were expected to read it at home

And again from Grade 9:

that it still is work.

But despite even these comments, I certainly find that the surveys I get from my students help guide me as a facilitator of their learning. I feel I not only have a better pulse on each of my classes, but I’m challenged to think of ways to reach each student that perhaps I would not have thought without their input.

And so, I’ll continue to solicit their feedback! However, I think next time I do, I might change the way I do things and take Kevin‘s advice about using GoogleDocs Forms. Thanks, Kevin!  And of course, thanks to all my students for their honest and detailed feedback — especially Rebecca, who agreed to have me write about our conversation and her comments!

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It’s a term, and nothing more. Here is what I think is most important: IT IS NOTHING NEW.

“edupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. . . . Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics–hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant to today’s digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely.”

-definition provided by Stephen Downes

I have seen it discussed in flurries on Twitter. I have read Jim Groom’s original post, where he coined the term. I have followed some of my favorite bloggers’ posts about the term, and found some new ones, too. I saw a student‘s take on it (insightful, as usual) and I have seen the much discussed stub on Wikipedia. I’ve done my research. I was even invited to share all the best “edupunk” ideas I use regularly (though I had to respectfully decline). I’ve seen all the hype and I just can’t shake the feeling that we have seen this all before.

With all respect to Andy Rush — I know, I know, maybe I shouldn’t take it all so seriously. After all, Jim Groom just seems like a crazy dude with a love for technology and learning. But here’s the thing: lots of other educators (and students) out there ARE taking it seriously. And it’s turning into a bunch of hoopla.

Good educators have been creating “student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced” learning experiences for centuries. It is JUST GOOD PRACTICE. Let’s assume we are all well-read, well-versed educators who have studied the theory as well as had the experience. We have all read Piaget, Skinner, Postman, and Montessori. We have been teaching our students (maybe even through trial and error? God forbid!) and we have learned what works best. We know that “hands-on learning that starts with the learner’s interests–and makes them relevant” is the best — whether that includes digital technologies or not. So why do we need to label it something other than what it is already? It is already GOOD PRACTICE. To paraphrase Tina Turner (who definitely was not punk): What’s punk got to do with it?

I agree with Warlick when he says:

The term is important . . . because it associates with people’s images of themselves and what they do. . .

Edupunk as Portal comments, in reply to Stephen Downes

And although Warlick thinks it’s a good term because it gets people’s attention, we have to recognize that perhaps “punk” is not how all educators see themselves and what they do. This is, I think, what Mrs. Durff was getting at in her comment about it being a “distasteful” term. If I do all the things that are considered “edupunk,” why do I have to be called this? Can’t I just be called a creative teacher? I don’t feel “punk” and I don’t really want to be “punk,” for that matter. I just want to be a good (if not great) educator who does what’s best for her students and their learning.

Like Gardner Campbell, I am skeptical of this term. I agree with him when he says,

There was DIY long before punk, and long after.

Yes, it has sparked some interesting discussion, but will it change anything? David Gran thinks all this debate is furthering our understanding of eduators’ relationships to the global community via technology. I can’t agree with that. I think my understanding of relationships to and within the global community will continue to be fostered and developed without this misnomer. I fear this new term will be the measuring stick for our future educational endeavors. Will we be asking ourselves at every new lesson, assessment task, or faculty meeting, “Are we edupunk enough?” Do we really want this?

I can understand and take into consideration the true spirit that the term embodies, and I can see the creative vibes that it originated out of. That’s all fine and good — and perhaps Jim Groom never intended it to go this far. But I’ve already decided that I don’t really want the term “edupunk” to be how I am described as an educator, for reasons I’ve outlined above. Nevertheless, I do have a few genuine questions:

Insightful Question #1:

I have to wonder if the reason why this term gained such ground in the post-secondary edublogosphere is because post-secondary institutions traditionally have not been hotbeds of ultra-progressive, uber-hip, pedagogically sound teaching and learning. (FLASHBACK: I can count on one hand the number of professors I had who actually were good teachers. I distinctly recall one professor who gave entire lectures standing in one spot, reading from the textbook, pausing between pages to look at the ceiling — we all wondered if he was signalling to the mothership.)

This situation, that is the lack of effective teaching in universities, is of course changing. Many university professors are now actually (gasp!) certified teachers with B.Ed.s and the like. But I wonder how many university professors (outside of the Faculty of Education) have spent time in a kindergarten classroom? That’s where the REAL D.I.Y., hands-on, teaching and learning happens, ladies and gentlemen — we all have MUCH to learn from these very talented KG teachers, and I daresay more high school and university educators would benefit by spending some time in their classrooms.

Insightful Question #2:

If “edupunk” is anti-establishment and anti-corporation, does that mean a true Edupunk does not use any tools provided by large-scale companies? So does that mean no Google? no Flickr? no QuickTime? Alas – these are all tools provided by corporations. Does my using them mean I am succumbing to corporate interests? What about my association with and work for the IBO? They are a non-profit organization but still a recognized “brand.” Yet they are an organization that I believe represents learning needs and goals of students around the world, in the most open-minded way possible.

Image credits:

[This post has been cross-posted at Pockets Of Change.]

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Hi Adrienne -

Thank you for applying to the Google Teacher Academy at the Googleplex on June 25th. We’ve reviewed all the applications, and we recognize that you are doing some great things. As a result, we’ve placed your name on the Wait List. On Monday, June 9th, we will let you know if there is room to include you. You will have 24 hours to respond to us by the end of the day on Tuesday, June 10th.

The above is the e-mail I received on Thursday evening (Thursday morning, GoogleTime).

So, I’m not one of the 50 Definites, but I’m also not one of the 200+ Definitely Nots. I guess I am pretty pleased! I was not really expecting to get in, mostly due to the poor quality of my 1 minute video once it was uploaded to YouTube / GoogleVideo. And now, here I’ve gotten what I am viewing as honorable mention. Not bad, not bad at all! :)

But I still am not in, and thus I wait in In-Between-Land . . .

Photo credit: Life Is The Space In Between by drp licensed under a CC 2.0 license.

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Some of you already know that this week I submitted my Google Teacher Academy application for this June’s session on the 25th in Mountain View, CA. I was pretty excited, as this is the first time that Google is accepting applications from outside of the immediate area of the GTA, and indeed, outside of the U.S.A. Woo hoo! (I heard about this Google news via the Infinite Thinking Machine Blog, btw. If that blog isn’t in your reader, get on it!)

What an experience for me just to put together the 1 minute required video. Fun, but definitely challenging. For my reflection and for your enjoyment (or perhaps mockery!), here are a few things I learned:

  1. It is impossible for me to put my entire teaching philosophy about Classroom Innovation into 1 minute. Impossible! Perhaps I have too much to say…?
  2. I can definitely type faster than I can write. The screen vids of me inking those memorable quotes across the screen of my tablet didn’t make the cut because I can’t ink three words in less than 9 seconds. But I can type three words in 4 seconds! (Thanks to my university days as a temp, I tell you!)
  3. I have an incredibly talented partner who knows more about making music than I do, even on a computer. ;) And I promise next time I will not ask him to do the music edits at 11 p.m. on a school night.
  4. I have a lot to learn about using video software, though I have discovered that it doesn’t get much easier than iMovie.
  5. The end of May is not a good time for me to be making movies (exams, report cards, people leaving, etc.). Mental note taken, stored, and written in cyberstone here. Amen. I think this vid would have been much better if I had not had 2398989712 things going on.
  6. The difference in quality from my raw mp4 file (pretty good) to the Google Video / YouTube upload is REMARKABLE. My exported mp4 (using iMovie’s “Expert settings”) looks great — super sharp and clear. Upload to Google Vid / YouTube looks grainy and all around sucky. Anyone have tips on this? (Note that I am new to this kind of thing; most of my contributions to the digital world have happened via written text and photo. Video is a whole new (fun) ballgame.) Sadly, what this means is that the Google Earth portions of my video are not viewable in the way I intended. Wah.
  7. I do not know enough about recording screen shots on video. Need to learn more about this.

And for those who are interested, the software / hardware I used:

  • CamStudio – on the Vista Fujitsu Tablet
  • Inspiration v.8 – also on the Vista Tablet (hat tipping to UNIS)
  • Google Earth – on the Vista Tablet, my iBook G4, and partner’s MacBook Pro
  • iMovie HD v.5 on my iBook, and then later v.6 on MacBook Pro
  • GarageBand on MacBook Pro

Lastly, for those who are interested, here is the vid itself:

Photo credit: Jan 24, 2008 “Reflection” by shannonpatrick17

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