27 February 2013

A drop in the ocean...

Individually we are one drop.
Together, we are an ocean.

Ryunosuke Satoro (126)
CC0 1.0 Universal Image, clkr.com

Module 4 of the Flat Classroom Certification course concerns, "Contribution and Collaboration". To me, these are essential components of being reliable digital citizens. Despite feeling I am the only drop in my school's ocean sometimes, I do think that courses like this really help build my PLN so I know I am not alone. The kind comments from Vicky really help too, as I am so used to not feeling appreciated or feeling isolated - a drop adrift. I operate on a knife-edge; on the one hand, I am very lucky to have an awesome principal who is into risk-taking, who encourages teachers to learn, read and try out new things and who wants me to keep blazing a trail; on the other hand, this means I am viewed as more knowledgeable than other teachers and have even been accused of being aloof and acting superior. Which is so NOT true - else why would I keep signing to learn more and be better? I wrote about this in 'Caring not Scaring' and recently, in 'Getting our Wires Crossed'

So, I have decided, I am going to keep going. I am going to stay principled in my belief system and let those who want to, come with me. As Vicky said in Meeting 4 today, we can only be responsible for ourselves. I have to thicken my skin and just stick to what I believe in the hope that others may want to come along for the ride. I need to build the confidence to stand up to people who say negative things about what I believe are positive points and just keep on keeping on. In my heart, I know it is right; I must not let doubters and less enthusiastic teachers, whose own self integrity may be called into question by my constant striving to be better, get to me.

I will continue to contribute and collaborate: I will still run my PL sessions at school to help those who need and want it; I will keep on with my own PL; I will keep in blogging and Tweeting; I will keep on forging links - for example, a Mystery Skype Tweet has turned into a lesson from G5 in the USA to my G12 second language learners to help them with their English and their cultural awareness. Plus, today through the FCT meeting, I forged a new link with Claudia who wants to build a support network with me. If I can't be who I am to those I want to support; I will support those who want me to be who I am ;) I am also very excited to have signed up to be a Judge for FCP and an Expert Advisor for NetGenEd!

Through a fabulous, ever-growing PLN, this little drop is finding some others; and we will join together, we will collaborate and our cloud will grow. We will learn and strive to find the best methods and we will burst forth, raining down our love and knowledge of learning, in the hope of encompassing and inspiring more drops... and so letting the cycle begin again.

Those educators who sit out, isolated, in a drought of new thinking - you better get out your umbrella!
Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 6: Contribution and Collaboration, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. pp126-157. Print.

26 February 2013

Habits of Learning

Habits of Learning: 
Responsible, Reliable Management of 
Online Activity

For Module 3: Citizenship, of the Flat Classroom Teacher Course, we have been assigned 'Quadblog' groups; this gives us a taste of what it is like to try to work asynchronously towards a common goal with people we don't know and who are in different time zones. My group has been assigned the topic of Individual Awareness, which is one of the areas of awareness that permeate every area of digital citizenship.

Within each of the five areas of awareness - technical, individual, social, cultural and global - there are four "rays of understanding": Safety, Privacy, Copyright, Fair Use, and Legal Compliance; Etiquette and Respect; Habits of Learning: Responsible, Reliable Management of Online Activity, and Literacy and Fluency. For the Quadblog group, I am tackling the understanding of Habits of Learning: Responsible, Reliable Management of Online Activity within the concept of individual awareness.

"Our future as a planet relies on our ability to use incredible technological advances for good and that begins with being able to relate to one another and prevent cultural disconnects from happening (98)"

Digital citizenship needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning (95); building a responsible habit of mind when it comes to being a digital citizen means "having a professional approach to all things digital" (107). The main questions individuals must ask themselves are:

  1. do I have personal habits that facilitate lifelong learning?
  2. do I share with others and understand their own value of education? (107)
These are questions we must ask ourselves as educators as well as of our learners - we must model individual awareness and let them see it in action; we must make it a habit of mind in order that it becomes entrenched in our teaching and learning and is automatically instilled into our approaches.

I recently took part in a virtual book club about taking control of your own learning, very much concerned with creating sound habits of learning that support our professional learning in a digital age. Kristen Swanson, author of Professional Learning in the Digital Age, advocates three main steps to creating a habit of user-generated learning - curation, reflection and contribution.

In the Flat Classroom book, Vicki Davies and Julie Lindsay suggest that "reliability is shown by having an online presence, often called "digital footprint", that is proliferated through sensible actions and responses while using digital tools" (107). In addressing question 1) do I have personal habits that facilitate lifelong learning?,  Swanson's chapters on Curation and Reflection will help to build solid foundations that allow you to get out there, manage what you find and reflect on it's use. My blog post 'Pearls of Wisdom', discusses the awesome Pearltrees as a great curation tool, and the post 'Bare your Soul' advocates how "the act of finding resources and thinking about them changes your practice. The more exploring [you] do, the more [you] try, and the more [you] learn", Richard Byrne, quoted in 'Reflection', 'Professional Learning in a Digital Age' by Kristen Swanson.  

One way I have approached this with my learners is through a project called 'Snapshots' that I wrote to ask learners to think about the question, 'How do I want to present myself to the world?'. This project ran from G6-10 and began with an exploration, through poetry, of who they think they are - and more importantly, who do they want to be seen as to people who don't know them. To establish the habit of learning about responsibility, we moved on to a 'Paper Blogging Project' that had learners post blog post simulations, on paper, on the outside of my classroom walls. The school community was informed and invited to contribute and learners used sticky notes to 'post' comments on each others' writing. We took time to review these posts and then discussed what was appropriate, kind, critical commenting as well as how to take responsibility and remove inappropriate or unhelpful comments. We signed up to Quadblogs, with the agreement that we would go last, and spent three weeks looking at our assigned school blogs to to see their organisation and discussed how to organise our own. We drew up and signed an agreement with parents before launching them online. 

In addressing question 2) do I share with others and understand their own value of education?, my blog post about contribution, quotes Vicki Davis in 'Global Education by Design' stating that we "must leave digital footprints so people know you’re treading among them and part of the community."  It is our responsibility to do that safely, responsibly and build this in our learners. Having the chance to practise blogging safely and see others doing it before going 'live' I believe built in some great habits of responsible and reliable behaviours; it made learners very aware of the language being used and they started pointing out non-standard English immediately - I hope that my reinforcement of the need to have a "professional approach to all things digital" particularly in terms of language is affecting their communication in all areas.

Common Sense Media is a great place for digital citizenship sources; I want to develop the 'Snapshots' unit into a more detailed exploration of digital citizenship that all Grade 6s must complete at the start of secondary school. Their Digital Passport site looks like a really interesting place to start. I also want to build in more consideration of Digital Culture from my current learning through a Coursera MOOC I am just completing on E-Learning & Digital Cultures with the older grades. I also want to approach the administration at school about building in some of the projects offered by Vicky and Julie: the Digiteen Project, the Flat Classroom Project and the NetGenEd Project to allow all learners at all levels develop strong habits and exposure to online, global citizenship.

If, as is suggested in Flat Classroom's Chapter 3: Connection, "ninety-five percent of [we] accomplish is due to our habits" (Tracy, 35) then I recommend Kirsten Swanson's book; it ties in really well with the Flat Classroom book and will guide you into building solid habits of learning, especially those new to online networking and managing a digital footprint -  it could really help you develop strong habits to ensure your footsteps are smooth, safe and steady so you are ready to help learners. Our own individual awareness needs to be established; individual awareness about habits of mind will allow us to act with responsibility and reliability; it will ensure our footprints are positive and sure, it will help prevent us slipping off the path into danger, it will help stop us tripping ourselves up!
Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 3: Connection, Chapter 5: Citizenship. Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. N. pag. Print.
Swanson, Kristen. Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator's Guide to User-generated Learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2013. Print.

Evolution technology: Visual Digital Literacy

Glossi.com - Silent Noise
This is my final assignment for the MOOC, E-Learning and Digital Cultures through the University of Edinburgh via Coursera.

Click to view Silent Noise on GLOSSI.COM

What is human? What is humanity?

human |ˈhjuːmən|
relating to or characteristic of humankind: the human body | the complex nature of the human mind.
• of or characteristic of people as opposed to God or animals or machines, especially in being susceptible to weaknesses: they are only human and therefore mistakes do occur | the risk of human error.
• showing the better qualities of humankind, such as kindness: the human side of politics is getting stronger.
The final part of the E-Learning and Digital Cutlures course asks us about to think about the effect of technology on 'the human'; how it "works to re-define what constitutes ‘the human’ - for better or worse - and what that might mean for education."

This infographic suggests a history of (US) education. In twenty years time, it suggests that "the future will never be without teachers" rather our roles will change; technology will allow teaching and learning to be "more effective"and will allow educators to become "enablers and supporters" rather than "lecturers and controllers". I would argue that it already has - this change should already have happened. In twenty years, we will be, should be, way beyond this.

In so far as the suggestion that educators will never be replaced; I think this is a bigger area of debate. If we simply use technology to deliver the same curriculum of content-based knowledge, I believe we could very easily be replaced. Google does this for us already - a Google Curriculum App could easily replace a teacher who just delivers facts and content. The point about technolgoy is that it should shift our practises; it is not about delivering the same stuff but using a computer. It means a paradigm mind-shift into skills that enable learners to be successful; it enables personalised learning based on spontaneous teachable moments, it means a strong relationship between learner and educator - which is what keeps the 'human' necessary. The fact that elearning courses strive for more 'human experiences' and more face to face meetings means we still have a desire to communicate with a human being, in fact, as I explore in my post about digital citizenship for the Flat Classroom Teacher Certification course, digital citizezhip is actually about how to communicate with other people with technology; it is a whole new way of communicating that technology as allowed us. But this week I have questioned what it is we really want: is this desire to communicate with a human being, actually a desire to communicate with someone who cares and understands? If that could be a non-human, would it still work? What if, in the future, robots have that capability; that 'human' capacity to respond to the needs of learners, to empathise and understand, to personlise... This brings into question what we actually mean by 'the human'. 

Developing from the notion of the integration of technology onto the human, the short film, 'Sight' (see my blog post: The Machine is Us) goes beyond interacting with and using tech for communication, it becomes more our actual world; it is blended into our actual view and experience of it. I question how far off this is (Google Glass); the technology might not actually be in place yet, but the experience already is. Think about the concepts presented in the short film, "Avatar Days", which begins to explore the blurred line between player and avatar, human and simulation, and offers a glimpse into a world already in motion, where humans spend time as 'other' and operate as 'other' giving personality, and humanistic principles to pixels. "True Skin" takes this further and explores the robotic in the human; in a world where enhancement is normal, the boundary between the human body and robotic body has been erased.

If these two films look at the robot in the human, "Robbie" and "Gumdrop"look at the human in the robot. They raise questions about what it means to be human in terms of advanced artificial intelligence. Both address the cybercultural possibility of "machinic sentience" but in very different ways.  In a far-distant future-world, "Robbie" is a moving documentary that charts the existential reflections of an ageing robot who is drifting alone through space on the last of his battery life. "Gumdrop" is a sweet robot actress who offers a lighter, less dystopian view of the future of artificial intelligence, but both make me think about what is is to be 'human'. As a Vegan, I entrust sentient thought to animals - not a world-wide belief I know, but mine. I believe they have thoughts, feelings, memories... These films suggest that in the future, "humanistic principles of autonomy, rationality, self-awareness, responsibility, resilience and so on can be held by an artificial intelligence within a mechanical form". If so, what does that say about the extent to which we rely on human cognition and the flesh of a human body to give ‘human’ meaning to the experience of the world?"  Do we NEED actual humans for a 'human' experience?

The whole concept of 'artificial intelligence' is an odd one too. If we are not born digital natives but have to learn how to operate successfully in a digital world, how is this different to robots who 'learn' to be 'human'? Can there even be 'artificial' intelligence?  I struggle with the actual word 'artifical'; if artificial is defined as "made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially as a copy of something natural" think about this in terms of the 2001 film, "Artificial Intelligence: AI", where a robotic boy longs to become "real" so that he can regain the love of his human mother. Is this artificial - once it is made, cannot it not be anything other than made? Once it is created, is not real? This brings into question the nature of mind, memory and learning, and the ways in which technological mediation is positioned in relation to it. Does what we are physically made of define us; if we can feel, if we have emotions, are we not 'human'? Surely being human is not really about being made of flesh and blood; there are many people out there made of 'meat' who are not 'human', who operate outside the realm of what most consider humanistic principles, who show no rationality or responsibility. I am not religious and don't hold that we are defined by a 'soul' per se, but I am spiritual and believe we are more than the vessel that holds us - therefore, does it matter what material that vessel is? If we can think, be responsible for others, show kindness, reason and compassion, rationality and self-awareness - are we, whatever the 'we' is, 'human'? Trans-humanism extends the humanistic principles of rationality, scientific progress and individual freedom; ‘humanity’ is a temporary condition and the future of human evolution is in the direction of a post-human future state in which technological progress will free us from the inconveniences of limited lifespan, sickness, misery and intellectual limitation.

It is these broken down lines of limitation that we need to explore as educators; ‘technology-enhanced learning’ appears to have become the new acceptable global term - and the emphasis should be on 'enhanced'. Presently, technology should be one of our tools that allows us to deliver more effective, personalised, interactive, relevant learning. As an educator - and a learner - responding to the idea that technology and the Internet in particular damages our capacity to think, I suggest that 'artificial intelligence' is content-based learning; it is facts learned rote that offer no guidance or support for life in the real world; it is just information that offers no deep-thinking and does not foster skills that allow more learning to happen. Carr (2008), suggests that our "media environments develop their own logic, to which we adapt socially and physiologically", which may be the thin end of the trans- or even post-human future state wedge. We are already out there; we exist virtually in social media and repsond accordingly. I have relationships with people I have never and will never meet; I know what they look like, how they think, what they feel and what they believe in; I have virtual relationships that enhance my learning - are they 'artificial'? More interestingly, what happens to our social media when we die? Will we still exist, forever in stasis, in binary, in code? Is that artificial intelligence because it has no flesh? Could we be recreated in a future world from all this information that exists forever, out there? Is that who we are?

Coursera, Week 4: Redefining the Human. https://class.coursera.org/edc-001/wiki/view?page=Redefiningthehuman
"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ 21 Feb. 2013.

23 February 2013

Go Mobile: Edmodo

Edmodo is a tool I use with my learners, as discussed in my blog about COMMUNICATION. None of my learners had used it before, and neither had I, although my PBLU course is run through it so I know what it is like to be a learner; I know it from the 'other side'.

Immediately upon signing up, my learners became highly active and were engaging with each other during and outside class times. It is a great way to communicate immediately with a group, it allows all members the opportunity to respond to each others' questions; it allows them to be able to help each other even if I have not had a chance to respond. Without it, the amount of emails flying back and forth would have become impractical for most learners who were not yet used to being online for educational purposes.

Using the 'small groups' setting, I also set up team groups within the main group, so learners within teams could send each other messages too. Edmodo allows us to add important information and reminders, as well as links to assignments, videos or documents; create polls about teachable moments or questions raised in class needing answers from all team members, plus keep track of progress and award badges for good effort, collaboration, sharing etc. All in all, it became a great collaborative communication tool; the learners love to use it and it is certainly one I will keep in my toolkit for future projects because it allowed us to lay the foundations for a successful learning network ,where learners could rely on each other - an essential component for the success of the communication and therefore the project.

What is also great about Edmodo, is that is has an app. This means that learners have the opportunity to be switched on all the time; they are able to engage wherever they are, they are able to respond and post pictures wherever they are taking learning beyond the classroom - flattening walls. It means I can also be connected to them all the time and get notifications as soon as learners post; I can also grade and comment and respond on my morning commute - a prefect way to make sure my time is productive.

I have found that Edmodo is a great way to keep on top of email traffic and is both a synchronous and asynchronous tool that allows us to keep email in-boxes manageable. It is easy, it is free and it means teachers can be part of it, as well as parents. Once we go global, it could potentially mean that there is someone there 24 hours a day to offer support and guidance when needed.


"England and America are two countries separated by the same language." 
George Bernard Shaw (87)

This is true also of teaching; global classrooms and non-global classrooms are two educational settings separated by the same communication systems. The world today requires us to have "a whole new set of communication literacies" (92); we need to educate learners in these technologies because "communications-savvy people are our best inoculation against the disease of inadvertent misunderstandings caused by technology glitches and nuances." (66) See also my blog post, 'Getting our wires crossed.'

"Creating an effective PLN is an essential 21st-century pull technology for students" (89)

My inaugural Project-Based Learning unit is written as the capstone for my PBLU Teaching Certification course. The Octopus's Garden Project, was written with this Flat Classroom Teacher Certification course in mind too, so I involved two grade levels to allow me to practise synchronicity and asynchronicity.

To aid communication in the project, I decided to use Edmodo. It had been used to deliver the PBLU course and I had found it a great way to communicate with all project members. Immediately, it became highly active with learners engaging with each other during and outside class times; it was a great way to communicate immediately with a group and allowed them to be able to respond to each others' questions; it allowed them to be able to help each other even if I have not had a chance to respond to queries. Without it, the amount of emails flying back and forth would have become impractical for most learners who were not yet used to being online for educational purposes.

Using the 'small groups' setting, I set up team groups within the main group, so learners within teams could send each other messages too. Edmodo allows us to add important information and reminders, as well as links to assignments, videos or documents; create polls about teachable moments or questions raised in class needing answers from all team members, plus keep track of progress and award badges for good effort, collaboration, sharing etc. All in all, it became a great collaborative communication tool; the learners love to use it and it is certainly one I will keep in my toolkit for future projects because it allowed us to lay the foundations for a successful learning network ,where learners could rely on each other - an essential component for the success of the communication and therefore the project.

"Having a stable routine is vital to digital-age work and learning" (67)

In helping to create the 'habits of mind' that require us to stay on top of our communication and to allow learners to take responsibility for their online and e-comm situation, learners decided on a five minute 'techtime' session at the start of each lesson to allow them time to check emails - all are striving for that zero inbox - as well as logon to Edmodo and get up to date with the lesson's agenda and any new posts.

"Communication is truly "flat" with access to everyone" (88)

When it comes to electronic communication, I have found that Edmodo is a great way to keep on top of email traffic and is both a synchronous and asynchronous tool that allows us to keep email in-boxes manageable. It is easy, it is free and it means teachers can be part of it, as well as parents. Once we go global, it could potentially mean that there is someone there 24 hours a day to offer support and guidance when needed.

What is also great about Edmodo, is that is has an app. This means that learners have the opportunity to be switched on all the time; they are able to engage wherever they are, they are able to respond and post pictures wherever they are taking learning beyond the classroom - flattening walls. It means I can also be connected to them all the time and get notifications as soon as learners post; I can also grade and comment and respond on my morning commute - a prefect way to make sure my time is productive.

"Over half the time spent on a global collaborative project by teachers typically happens before the project begins" (80)

This was completely true for The Octopus's Garden Project, which took over a month to plan out, and constantly evolves to meet the learning needs. You can read in more detail about the 'birth' of this project HERE.

In my school community, there is much misconception and uncertainty about different and non-traditional pedagogical methods of delivering lessons; many, I think, believe PBL in particular is about 'doing'; I, the teacher, do nothing, while the learners do all the work. Whilst I acknowledge that PBL lends itself to being learner-centred, it is not true that I sit around and let them get on with it - never have I worked so hard in fact. It is simply the nature of the work that is different to more traditional notions of what teaching is.

Most of my 'work' now the project is running, happens outside the classroom - in creating schedules, feedback, in addressing needs and issues that come up in lessons, and in coordinating skills workshops to address any gaps in knowledge that have arisen. During actual class time it is true that I may not seem to be 'teaching' in the more traditional sense of the word, but rather I circulate, participate and facilitate, I meet with teams and offer the support they need. You can read my reflection 'After Meeting with Teams' that was submitted as part of the PBLU course to gain more insight into how my teaching, learning and communication was organised in terms of the 'breadcrumbs' learners left to inform each other between sessions.

"Once it is cool to care, anything becomes possible" 
Todd Whittaker, 'What Great Teachers Do Differently (87)

One big thing I would change about my Octopus Garden project is the start: launch in PBL; handshake in FCP. As the project was planned to evaluate my learning in my PBL Teacher Certification, the starting focus was the exciting 'entry event' or launch; my reflection 'After the Launch' goes into more detail on my evaluation of this in terms of PBL. The start of any project is important but the 'launch' is an essential component of PBL however, the 'handshake' element of FCP works on, and develops this process and would develop a caring environment from the start.

I believe my learners involved in the Project would have benefited from a small handshake at the start following the launch. I think I neglected this part because, a) I had not done this course yet, but b) mainly, my planning didn't address any sort of need for this, because project teams are in the same school. However, they did not all know each other and had never worked in this way before - they have strong relationships now, but I think a handshake would have been great and would have established the strong and caring bond they have developed right from the get go.

"I enjoyed all of this project but if I had to choose one thing that I enjoyed the most it would have to be working with the grade sevens because I now am quite good friends with them and I feel I've made a few friendships which now mean quite a lot to me. In particular, what I like about working with them is helping each other and working in a really fun group with different people." Blog Reflection, G8 Learner, The Octopus's Garden Project 2012.

"Online behaviour has offline consequences!" (67) 

As an English teacher I found the section on 'Communication Ground Rules' very apt and interesting. Before embarking on my Octopus project, I did a Snapshots project that asked learners to think carefully about how they want to present themselves to the world - "profiles represent people" (67). The project commenced with an exploration of who they think they are through poetry, video and presentations, and included a 'paper blogging community' that allowed learners to explore this mode of communication safely. They were global-local in terms of the school community who could see their posts, which were stuck all over the outside of my classroom. Through sticky notes, they learned how to write helpful, critical comments and how they could remove any they did not like or find helpful. Once these rules were learned, we explored the consequences of online profiles upon our futures and then signed an agreement that had guidelines on how to be responsible digital citizens. This agreement included the need to use standard English to allow for clear communication in adherence with the belief that it is "an imperative for us to discourage IM speak in academic language because it is exclusionary and unprofessional" (86). Once they launched into Blogging proper, we linked up with some schools in the USA, the UK and Australia for Quadblogging to provide authentic audiences.

After reading Chapter 4: Step 2: Communication (62-96), I realise that running The Octopus's Garden Project, even between just two grade levels within the same school, has been an excellent way to practise the communication skills I need and they need to be successful - before we launch ourselves globally.

I think my work on this Project means that I got 'green' on the Self-Assessment Survey. We use project calendars, Edmodo, Blogger and Twitter to communicate with each other and the school community, so I have been able to practise using, implementing and trouble-shooting a variety of communication tools. The feedback told me:-

"You're in good shape. You need to be flexible if you want to collaborate globally, especially if you are creating a new project with the other teachers. Just follow the tips to prevent burnout and keep balance in your personal life."

I do think burnout is something I need to keep an eye on, as I tend to run headlong into things and get very enthusiastic and caught up. I have taken up my running again this year, as it forces me to spend some time on myself and gives me goals to achieve outside of the classroom. However, it is something additional that I need to fit into my day, which can also make me feel strained when I am a full time teacher, mother, wife and learner... But I truly believe that it is important to model learning and organisation and self-management - I can only expect my learners to step-up to these challenges if they see me challenging myself too.
Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 4: Step 2: Communication." Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 62-96. Print.

20 February 2013

Getting our wires crossed

The adage 'to assume makes an ass out of you and me' is one that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and is even more pertinent as we discuss communication in my Flat Classroom Certification course. The readings, discussion and research focus around the need for open channels, boundaries and accepted standards of effective communication at all levels, with everyone.

In today's world, there are many channels and tools available for communication - at every conceivable level. Technology means that we communicate constantly, easily, excessively. All these channels mean that wires can easily get crossed. My desire to share and communicate my findings about learning and teaching has been misinterpreted as my being a 'know-all' or as 'aloof' and 'superior', which is so far from the truth it's not even the same language. If I knew everything, why would I be doing all these courses to learn how to be better? What hurts most about this assumption is that it is just that - an assumption by people who do not know me at all - but assume they do.

Lack of communication can lead to assumptions that are way beyond the reality and that can be very dangerous when they become to be accepted as truth. I have blogged in the past about my utter dread and fear of speaking publicly, even to a small room of my peers. I have also blogged about my quest to face these fears in my attempt to contribute or give back to the teaching community who have so supported me. Part of this fear-facing is being addressed through the FCT course - along with how to communicate more effectively and globally. But only once has a colleague talked to me about my experience presenting at the Hands on Literacy Conference 2012. They congratulated me on my achievement. My gratitude for their kind words was quickly followed by an explanation of how scared I was and how hard I find it to talk to my peers. Their utter shock and disbelief at this has only recently really clarified in my mind. They said they were shocked as they assumed I was OK with speaking publicly - simply because I had presented. A lovely conversation followed about how challenging yet rewarding I had found it and how it is something I am really trying to work on professionally - which was something my colleague had not realised about me.

The realisation that the perception of me by some is far removed from the truth was summed up in this conversation and it reminded me of something a Muslim learner taught me years ago. There is a teaching from the Quran about how humans are only capable of judging others by their own standards and ways of thinking; we think and behave in a certain way, and therefore judge others as if they are the same as us. I suffer from this too - I am trusting, loyal and thirsty for knowledge; I believe learning, sharing and striving to be better is important - and assume that all educators share my beliefs. I have not yet learned this is not the case; everyone's priorities and outlooks are different - and this wire really trips me up.

We make too many assumptions.  It was assumed that I am confident simply because I did something many do not think of doing. Yet it was only because a good friend pushed me (and I am very grateful that she did) that I did it; it was only because I can do something about this fear that I did it; it was only because I can try and I can put myself out there in the hope that each time it will be easier. I can learn to conquer and control my fear, however there is less I can do about people who assume they know me and make judgements about me that are false. I cannot change people's assumptions if they don't get to know me but assume they do. I try to show how much I care by sharing - my wire is extended out there - yet if this is misinterpreted, I am not sure how to handle those who twist my intentions. It hurts. It causes trouble. It sparks beliefs that are false and harmful. To assume without proof is dangerous. To assume without any real evidence makes and ass out of you and me. And right now, I don't know how to uncross those wires.

15 February 2013

The Octopus's Garden: Final Phase Begins

This week in The Octopus's Garden Project, Grade 7 and Grade 8 have been deciding on how to proceed with their final 21st century classroom design presentations. They created a list of guidelines using the feedback and reflections from Phase 2 topic presentations, along with a lesson on slide design.

Lots of critical thinking happened as learners made important decisions about how teams would be formed, how the presentation would work, what would be included and the order each section would occur in. Learners took part in a poll to decide on team formation for this Phase and then, using the guidelines and learning from the slides above, worked on planning out their section of the final design presentation.

Rubber Ducks: 'Walls' Presentation Planning
Using sticky notes, each team planned out exactly what they wanted to be seen on each slide and in what order, with notes about what would be heard whilst the slide was displayed - speech or music.

Two members from each team then circulated among the rest of the group, spending two minutes discussing the plan with the remaining members. Returning to their own team, they shared what they had seen and heard and adjusted their plans accordingly, (see right).
Plan for Slide 1 of
Final Presentation

Once each team's plan was made, all sheets were stuck up on the wall around a central overall plan - which included a general introduction to the whole project, (see left and below).

As a group, we then started to plan out the whole presentation bringing together all our ideas. Learners wanted to mix up the different areas in a logical way. By discussing links and connections between different topic areas, learners began to create a presentation plan that seamlessly links different areas together. For example, discussion of a ceiling painted like the sky (from G.O.A.T.'s 'Ceiling' plan) lead to a discussion of flooring like grass (from Dominant Innovation's 'Floor' plan) to create a more sophisticated presentation that shows careful thought about all the different elements and how they combine to create a whole.
Final Presentation Plan starting to take shape
Learners recognised that these thinking, planning and synthesising skills are essential for effectively showing all their designs in a clear and cohesive way; most importantly, they recognised that these skills are crucially important for organising their writing.

13 February 2013

Going Digital = Going Dumb?

"Educational institutions are established around a privilege of writing as the ultimate means of demonstrating understanding"; the question is, can digital technology and the creation of images "demonstrate competence, knowledge and understanding in a rigorous way?"

As a life-long learner, I have recently been taking part in an E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC via Coursera (see posts Graveyards of Technology and The Machine is Us) and the sources they offer for thought include a lot of visual sources. In conjunction with the fact that I have been trialling Flipped Classroom methods and just completed certification through Sophia.org, I have been thinking about the use of visual sources for teaching and their impact on engagement and learning.

Part of the outcomes of the E-learning and Digital Cultures course is a consideration of "the extent to which visual representation can be considered a valuable scholarly pursuit", which interests me in particular as an English teacher. I have always been very visual in my exploration of the written word, and even in exam grade classes, learners have had to produce artefacts such as metaphor storyboards for poetry, illustrations labelled with quotations, mobiles, or video commentaries as formative assessments for understanding texts before working on presenting that understanding in the more traditional, more 'scholarly' medium of writing. However, I do know that some administration and parents and even learners have 'looked down' on these visual efforts as a lesser form of demonstrating understanding.

I have similar issues now I have embedded digital cultures and artefacts into my teaching and I do feel there is the underlying belief that it is not really educational in the 'true' sense. The E-learning and Digital Cultures course points out that "digital culture is often implicated in a shift towards the visual and multimodal as ways of representing knowledge" which should not be seen as a negative or an opposition to traditional ways of expressing knowledge, but as a compliment to the traditional, offering "new possibilities for conveying ideas". Having been to hospital doesn't put me in a position to tell doctors what they should be doing, however the problem with education is that everyone thinks they are an expert because they once went to school. I have lost count of the number of parents and friends who I have questioned whether we are really 'teaching' kids by using laptops - as if pen and paper make it authentic but pixels negate all knowledge. They think that because they learned in a certain way, their children should be learning that way too and many of the issues surrounding digital culture and e-learning will persist until either current parents are educated otherwise or else we need wait until current generations who grow up learning this way are the parents. However, the world will have changed again by then and we could be playing a constant catchup of generational disconnect.

Ebon Heath is an artist who plays with 'words'; he creates 'visual poetry' - beautiful sculptures that he says are the "physical representation of our language as object". His typographic structures are a "cacophony" that attempt to make the invisible, visible; to represent the "cozy womb of information, data" that comes from our "texting, online, and transmitted technology" to reveal the "invisible noise silent to the eye surrounding us all." Is his competence, knowledge and understanding less rigorous because he expresses it visually rather than writing an expository essay?

I have really enjoyed watching videos as part of this course and it is the first time that I have taken part in learning that is so purely based on the interpretation and evaluation of digital artefacts. It doesn't feel like 'work' and certainly feels different to the readings they provide EVEN THOUGH the videos generate just as much thinking for me. I wonder if this is what lies behind the success of 'flipping' for learners - they like watching, it feels right, it is what they know? As long as we are sure that the watching is active and has a clear outcome, I think we must address it as a viable source for knowledge and learning. Equally, if I think about the digital or visual material produced for me over the years by many different learners, I cannot but help think that it is possible to "demonstrate competence, knowledge and understanding in a rigorous way" via visuals or digital sources. "Reading and writing skills have probably formed the dominant experiences of our education [whilst] visual expression or analysis may be something that has received less attention" but we have a duty to teach them. The world is increasingly digital and we cannot escape that; as is acknowledged by educators gloablly, we have a responsibility to address the current needs of our learners as well a those we cannot even yet comprehed  and must teach "an alternative sets of skills to meaningfully engage in visual work" for their future success.

My final product, can be seen HERE.

Flipping Heck - the difference a flip makes

Flipping the classroom is something I have been thinking about since I read Flip Your Classroom last summer. However, despite the book being really informative in both clearly explaining how Bergman and Sams' journey evolved as well as in consolidating my belief that flipping is a great method to differentiate, personalise and manage the diverse learners we find in our classrooms today, there were a distinct lack of good English class examples out there. I can clearly see the advantages for science and maths, but English has often already been flipped to some degree, in that we often ask for reading to be done preparation for a lesson, where discussions and writing are then supported.

My explorations led me to Sophia.org, who offer a great free course on planning and thinking through rigorous and authentic flipped lessons. However I became stumped after the theory part and at the point where I had to actually start planning a flipped lesson that went beyond the 'normal' for my subject.

Then I stumbled over the Flipped Learning Network - where I have now become a moderator for the Secondary English Group. It's a great place of contribution and discussion, where plenty of sharing goes on and where I had the fortune to come across Flipped Learning expert Cheryl Morris (@guster4lovers) - who is also an English teacher!  Her Blog post 'How to Start the Flip' helped me realise there is more than one way to flip a classroom and that many of us, including me, are already actually doing it. In her post she recognises four main 'flips' - 'Flip 101', 'Asynchronous Flip', 'Flipped Mastery' and 'Co-Flip'.
  • Flip 101: this is what immediately comes to mind when thinking of flipping; an instructional video that learners watch at home in readiness for class, where they can be supported in further more detailed exploration in real time
  • Asynchronous Flip: this involves using a video in class; recording reading or instruction allows learners to work at their own pace and re-watch as needed - as Cheryl Morris says, 'they can work ahead but they can't get behind'.
  • Flipped Mastery: this involves taking one or both of the above methods and integrating into it mastery levels that must be reached before progression - essentially grading or testing against curriculum standards to assess the learning
  • Co-Flip: the most important elements of this style are that it is:-
    • learner-centred; 
    • uses higher-order thinking skills (HOTS)
    • highly values collaboration - between educator and learner, learner and learner or educator and educator 
    • instruction takes place according to demand - on video or in real time; synchronously or asynchronously; self-paced or everyone together; mastery or not
From Cheryl's Tweets and Blogs (morrisflipsenglish.com), I have learned a great deal and, in conjunction with the Sophia.org Flipped Classroom teaching course, have made headway into flipping my classroom. Here are some short examples of what has been effective in my brief foray into the flipped world.

FLIP 101: Recount Writing
I have found this SO beneficial for my learners and was amazed at how much it allowed us to be ready to progress in class. Learners watched a video about Recount Writing that I prepared by creating a Google Presentation, recording a screencast using Quicktime and editing it in YouTube Video Editor - some of this was because I also needed to know HOW to do the recording and editing to teach my learners (see CO-FLIP below).

I created an assignment on Edmodo that asked learners to watch the video as many times as needed to understand and when ready, click on TURN IN and write 
a) what they understood by recount writing using their own words, and 
b) a question about something they were still unclear about, which became a 'Need to Know' list for us to address together to ensure clarity and understanding. 

Reviewing the learning in the lesson the next day with the success criteria from the video showed me just how much they had learned from the video and were totally ready to go to work on planning the actual writing. Even the ESL learners were able to contribute their understading meaning they were in a better position to keep up with the first language learners.

Asynchronous Flip: Reflections
At the start of the year we created an awesome project out of the sliver of an idea intended to fill the chaotic first week. It developed into a full blown fully differentiated Unit that we taught grade 6-11 about the importance of thinking about how you present yourself to the world.  Part of it involved writing a poem about themselves and presenting it, in the medium of their choice, to the class. We got sculpture, painting, collage and puppet shows as well as the websites, videos and songs. You can see some of them on the Showcase page of the website. To try to tackle the different learners and abilities, I created two sets of lessons with videos, to instruct how to write reflections - one for a written reflection; one for a audio version. Learners were able to work through the lessons individually at their own pace whilst I was able to support them. Having a Google Site means I can group learners and send them to different pages where instructions are differentiated, so their is no 'stigma' or obvious groupings that can often cause upset in classes when it is more explicit that the work is being differentiated.

Co-Flip: How to create screencasts
As part of our huge Octopus's Garden Project, learners have had to master many different skills. Part of the phase the recount writing, outlined in the Flip 101: Recount Writing section above, involved creating a collaborative video. I have never done this before but had heard about YouTube Video Editor. I created a Film Making Workshop page and found two great little videos about a) uploading to YouTube and b) editing in YouTube. A lesson or so later, learners were struggling with the screencasting element of the process so, there and then, in the lesson, I demonstrated how to create videos from presentations, and created and added the video tutorial to the page for review.

I took part in some PD lately that taught exactly the above same thing about YouTube Editor, but instead of a few little quick videos, the presenter stood and talked and demonstrated and it was less effective, less clear and we were not able to go back and review at a later date. And this is an important lesson - we don't always have to make the videos ourselves. There are tons out there already; as educators we are stretched to the max as it is; we know our leaners well enough to know that if they need instruction personalised for them, we can tailor make a video for them. However, we should also be able to take advantage of all the other experts out there already doing this (like Cheryl!)

As mentioned above, I came across Sophia.org in my search. Today, I completed the Flipped Teacher Certification Course using my Recount Writing Workshop lesson. The course is short but in-depth and covers the whole process from writing clear, meaningful objectives that are backwards by design, to differentiating assessments. It is a great course and learning site that allows you to host flipped lessons and offers eight different file paths, from text to video, to upload to create your tutorials - you can even create screencasts directly on to their site. The only issue I have, as a Google Apps for Education Certified Teacher, is that you cannot easily add links to Google Docs, although the inbuilt iFrame embed codes in Google Forms mean they can be added easily.

Flipping is something I am definitely going to explore more as I feel it makes an awful lot of difference; the readiness of the learners to go ahead and write was brilliant for the Recount Writing lesson; the fact that they can review the learning whenever they need to and watch it as many times as they need to is also beneficial in establishing a mindset that takes learning beyond the confines of the lesson. Flipping the classroom empowers learners to take control of their learning and make it part of their habits of mind. Flipping heck :)

12 February 2013


We had our kick-off meeting last week on Tuesday 5 February 2013. I was able to connect using Blackboard Collaborate, something I had not used before, but unfortunately had to leave as I was at school. However, with it being Chinese New Year I have had an extended weekend, so was able to catch up and watch the full recorded version. I have also had a cold so have not felt up to tackling the mountain of marking, but have caught up on my reading for the next meeting, namely Chapters 1-3 of the book, 'Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds'; my Tweets about the most interesting salient points for me personally, can be found under @MrsHollyEnglish under #flatclass.

Having reached the end of Chapter 3, I have come across my first 3 of the 15 Flat Classroom Challenges. Having taken part in the survey assessing my current connectivity, I feel confident that I am currently in a good position - I already have established a sound PLN that I build on when I can and have added some more people to follow as recommended across the three chapters; I Tweet and ReTweet and share ideas with others on Twitter daily and blog as often as I can, aiming for at least once a week though I often have more than that in draft form. I think reading Kristen Swanson's Professional Learning in a Digital Age before starting this course has really helped to set up and take charge of my PLN in the three forms of CurationReflection and Contribution: reading these posts will show you how this little book can help anyone get digital and create a PLN easily. Anyone feeling overwhelmed at this point in the FCT, should take the time to read it as the extra effort will really help in the long run.

Challenge 1: Set up your RSS Reader
I already use Google Reader to tie all my blog and RSS feeds together and use Flipboard to 'pull' them to me along with my Twitter feed, some choice hashtags and other useful sites. I have also set up appointment times for myself and put them in my calendar to spend fifteen minutes twice a week on spending time researching. I already spend more time than this on reading and researching I think but monitoring will be useful, as time on the bus each morning does not always see me commenting on other's blogs - and this is my goal. I will try to comment on others' blogs in these time slots to fulfill my contribution quotient too.

To organise my PL, I use NetVibes - I set up my Flat Classroom tab to help me to organise myself with the various different places I need to go to stay on track with this course.

Challenge 2: Set up your Blog
I already have a Blog and am starting to get more traffic particularly as I Tweet a link when I post with the hashtag for the course I doing - at the moment it is obviously Flat Classroom but concurrently, I am also taking part in an awesome MOOC via Coursera with the University of Edinburgh on E-Learning & Digital Cultures: click HERE and HERE for links to the posts written about this learning to date. Therefore, I decided to set up a FLAT CLASSROOM PAGE on my Blog that will contain links to my Flat Classroom blog posts, and therefore will act as a journal and one-stop shop to find all my ramblings about this learning. I have to email this link to someone in my learning community but I hope the fact that I will Tweet it will suffice...?

Challenge 3: Connect & Reflect
Reading the first three chapters has made me really excited. As a new school and department, we are in the daunting but luxurious position to redesign our entire curriculum. As part of a thread I want to have running across the 6-12 grades, I have discussed and introduced the Google idea of 20% time for personal projects, the MYP idea of the actual Personal Project as well as wanting to build in a Flat Classroom project for our older learners. What really excited me was the huge scope of projects offered that can even have our Primary learners involved so they are ready for more challenges when we get them. I would like to talk to the Head of Primary about introducing the 'A Week in the Life of...Project', the 'Lucky Ladybug Project', the 'Pumpkin Seed Count' and the 'Life 'Round Here' projects. I would then like to talk to the Head of Secondary about introducing the 'My Hero' project and the 'Digiteen Project' as well as the 'Flat Classroom Project' that I have been told can be an option in the future. I think providing a variety of opportunities to engage globally from a young age is beneficial and is the curriculum innovation we need to start embracing in our school community.

I found a couple of quotations particularly helpful to me personally; I love the term teacherpreneur and take great solace in the fact that the book acknowledges that whilst many such teachers gain great accolades, many are also seen as those who 'rock the boat' (p44). This rings so true to me at present as someone who is forging a path in the school in the hope that others might get on the rocking boat with me. We are going to have to sail along alone for a while, but I am hoping the more who see what we can do as we steam through the choppy and ever-changing waters, the more will join us and help give weight to our endeavours and provide steadiness so we can begin to sail smoothly, where global thinking and collaboration is the norm.

10 February 2013

The Machine is Us...

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." 
Benjamin Franklin.

Week 2's exploration for the Coursera MOOC, E-learning & Digital Cultures asks us to look forward to the future of educational learning within a digital realm. Retaining our thinking about Utopian and Dystopian representations, this time we were to focus on the "sorts of metaphors that are used to draw comparisons between the unfamiliar and the familiar, or the abstract and the concrete" as a way to try and understand the assumptions made about e-learning - the digital ‘native’ and the digital ‘immigrant’ being one of the most widely used at present, for example.

Sunrise, Singapore, Morning Run, 09 February 2013
A Utopian perspective presents technology as our salvation - transformative and revolutionary; a Dystopian perspective sees technology as destruction - as attacking and supplanting. Separation of the two is not easy, in fact they seem almost mutually inclusive, particularly in terms of the future of technology and where we are going with it. On the one hand, we want technology to take us forward and help us out - and there is no denying that the advent of technology makes life easier in some respects. For example, I feel safe when I go out and run.  Having only lived in this country for a few months, I do tend to get lost - but my iPhone empowers me to be able to go out and run, which makes me feel good. I am not worried about getting lost as I can open a map that allows me to find my way home. My husband can also locate me should I be out longer than anticipated and check all is ok. I can record my route, my time and distance and compare my pace with every other run I have ever done. I can take and share photos of the beautiful sunrises and scenery I encounter and share them easily with my friends all over the world in the click of a few buttons. I can be connected with everyone back home and never lose touch of the latest news and goings on. I can talk to my brother on the other side of the world and virtually sit in his sitting room - my family, his family, our family, all together chatting, the kids sharing toys and news. Brilliant. But where is this going next? Already, my running app allows me to link with friends and compare routes; already globally, are worried about privacy and how sites are using our searches to tailor results and adverts specifically aimed at our needs. What is the future?

Corning's video advert, 'A Day Made of Glass' (above), suggests a future where technology will be fully integrated into our every task and is an interesting view that posits a possible future where every part of our life will be linkable, sharable, reachable. It is a bright, clean, gleaming world that allows seamless integration of technology to transform and revolutionise. This Utopia is taken one step further however in the short film 'Sight' where the gleaming world presented in 'A Day Made of Glass' becomes sinister, clinical and empty. The emptiness and isolation that is portrayed in 'Sight' goes against what I currently like about my technology; the fact it lets me engage and interact with my environment and family rather than separate me from it by replacing that reality with the virtual. Equally, the notion that our lives may become so much about technology that the line between the virtual and the real is blurred so our entire existnece becomes a game, dictated to by machinery, is more Dystopian - attacking and definitely supplanting. 

The integration of the technology over our actual view of the world presented in 'Sight' goes beyond interacting with and using tech for communication, it becomes our actual world. It becomes us. It is us. It reminds me of people I saw once whilst on a safari in Sri Lanka. We had a little camera and captured a few shots of the elephants we were lucky enough to encounter for prosperity, but the real joy came from being in the elephants' environment, in their environment with them, and in seeing the joy on the faces of my children being so near to them. We came across another jeep containing a couple with expensive looking cameras that did not once leave their eyes. Their experience of the elephants was veiled virtually through a lens; they were so concerned with capturing the experience they never really saw it, they never were really there. In fact, they experienced it so much through a viewfinder they may as well have watched a documentary. Their blinkered narrowed focal point meant they missed the baby elephant who ran through the grass right past the jeep; they missed the lone elephant hiding behind the tree to one side; they missed so much in their endeavour to preserve the experience that I wonder how much of the experience they actually remember compared to how much comes from preserved images. It seems so false, preserving images only seen through a lens. What worries me about a future as presented in 'Sight', is that right now, I feel empowered by technology to run but am not reliant on it, whilst the main female character in 'Sight' is not able to 'see' or experience her run because her tech failed. What worries me is that my experience is the thin edge of this wedge. Do we see through the lens of technology already - how much is real, how much is manipulated, how much are we reliant on it for our experiences each day? Has my day really happened if I have not preserved each significant event in a Tweet? I don't like the robotic look in 'Sight'; I don't like the clinical feel, the lack of homeliness or emotion, the blankness of the world populated mainly by the virtual. I don't like the idea that tech goes beyond support into control. I want my life to be enhanced by not replaced by the virtual world. 

If 'Sight' takes the idea of 'the machine is us' one step further, one step beyond, Futurestates short 'Charlie 13' takes this further by replacing a part of us that is unique, that identifies us as us and implants tracking devices. Fingerprints are violated by chips that allow us to be controlled - or 'safe', where the 'opt in' or choose to 'opt out' mentality is one that I struggle with, particularly at work. The lines are greyed; tech needs to be part of what we do NOT what we do. Point the finger. 

'Charlie 13' blurs the line between salvation and destruction, where control is portrayed as safety; 'Plurality' (above) takes this even further by tying tech to our very essence, our DNA, which can be read anywhere by anything - hands on railings, hair against shop window glass. 

Set in 2023, it suggests that we will be safer by control; we lose our right to privacy yet gain a life of safety, a state challenged by 'plurals' who return from a future to challenge this 'ideal'. Many allusions to Dystopian futures abound in this short film that lead us to question the future road our technology is taking us down. The Inspector working for 'The Grid' is named Jacob Foucault - an interesting choice if we consider that the Biblical Jacob's renaming to 'Israel' when translated sees him as one "to rule, be strong, have authority over" but also as a "God contender", particularly thought-provoking when mixed with the French philosopher's ideas of panoptic surveillance to 'discipline and punish', both of which hark back to the points I made in my last post about technology as the new religion. Posters in the background of the film warn of 'Big Brother' alluding to Orwellian surveillance purported in 1984, and the helicopters circling nod to Philip K Dick's 'Eye in the Sky'. Pluralism theory acknowledges diversity of interests; Pluralism as theory considers it imperative that members of society accommodate their differences by engaging in good-faith negotiation. Interestingly however, the 'Plurality', the one who returns to warn and acknowledge difference is the one who does not belong to 2023. Named Alana Winston, nodding again to Winston Smith in 1984, whilst combining with Alana, meaning 'precious awakening', her statement that 'The Grid', the panoptican state, the all seeing eye has "replaced freedom with the illusion of safety"and her dare to challenge, earns her a sentence to time on Ellis island - ironically, a penitentiary of the future, now living up to its past nickname, "The Island of Tears". 

All these films made me question what it is these future states suggest we need to be safe from.  Utopian ideals of protection quickly have become Dystopian states that need to be broken down. What is it that needs us, in the future, to be hardwired into 'protective grids' and constantly monitored? Each other? Freedom? Choice? What are we being protected from exactly? It brings to mind Dystopian futures portrayed in films such as The Matrix or iRobot, where the machines we create take us over. The technology we create becomes more than its creator. The idea that technology is what moves us forward is didactic; we create the technology; the technology creates us. How we manage this creation will be significant. The machine is us.