What will be the markers of our success?

The image “http://www.dnrec.state.de.us/DNREC2000/Divisions/AWM/YardWaste/success.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Christopher D. Sessums has asked some really insightful questions in his Reflections on the Value of Read Write Technology and the Future of Public Education.

They are:
“What do I want to see happen in our classrooms?
I wonder if other educators are not facile with Read/Write technology, will the Read/Write Web be as useful or meaningful to them?
Specifically, to what end should we be using the Read/Write Web in classrooms? And, in terms of accountability, who decides which instruments and measures are to be used as a means for assessing our skills and abilities?
If we are to hoist a petard that shows how informal educational opportunities associated with the Read/Write Web will better serve global interests, what will be the markers of success?

Stephen Downes has written that: “The main point is that technology allows us to change our approach to education, from one where we segregate learners in specially designed education facilities (classrooms, training rooms, schools, universities) to one where learning is something we do (and what educators provide) in the course of any other activity. The idea is that ‘School 2.0′ is the first step toward being non-school, and that our objective should be to use technologies to leverage our ability to personalize learning, and in so doing, facilitate students’ learning while taking part as full citizens in the wider community.”

“Instead of bringing students to the learning, as the education system has done for about a century, we must now, if we wish to be relevant at all, bring learning to the students. This means setting students free to pursue their passions, and then being there when they need coaching, mentoring, or a safety net.”

Wesley Fryer, in Unstructured Practice Can be a Key to Excellence, identifies that the dominance of content is the major impediment to change: He writes “that instead of teaching vocabulary lists out of context and diagramming sentences, students should be writing and creating digital stories for global publication on YouTube, Uth.tv and other websites. Instead of writing (and often plagiarizing) essays about topics at the knowledge and comprehension level which already exist on sites like WikiPedia, students need to be CREATING original knowledge products which require and reflect higher order thinking skills. Instead of taking spelling tests, students need more unstructured time to READ in environments rich with diverse texts. (Krashen) If an assignment can be done by a parent (like a written essay,) teachers should substitute a performance-based assessment which cannot be “faked” by the student, like an interactive debate.

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Burning Books

Via Hey Jude, is this visual list of the Top 10 Banned Books of the 20th Century. It’s fascinating that these books, banned for either their political heterodoxy or moral ambiguity, are now considered classics and form the basis of many school and university reading lists.
They are:
1984 by George Orwell
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Ulysses by James Joyce

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Experiencing the world


Sylvia Martinez in technology enabled service learning projects writes how the effective use of technology is about “providing students with context and real life projects [that] makes learning come alive.” “This means students can go beyond “tech skills” to authentic learning and citizenship that lasts a lifetime”.
“It’s harder to argue that blogs or social networks are just time wasters when they are being used to discuss cultural issues with students in Tibet, or say that student email is unnecessary when students are key members of a city-wide safe water campaign.”
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’m currently planning a cultural study tour to Vietnam for the senior Modern History and Geography classes. We are looking at incorporating a meaningful service aspect into the trip. I don’t want to do this in an ad-hoc or superficial manner and am looking at how to blend the experience with the aim of helping students understand Vietnam’s history more deeply. One idea is for students to raise funds and visit orphans who have been affected by dioxins – an ongoing consequence of the war in Vietnam. From ABC’s Foreign Correspondent, it is estimated by the Vietnamese that “three million of their people – including third-generation babies being born today – are victims, suffering from high levels of cancer and birth defects. They blame the effects of the deadly poison dioxin [Agent Orange], contained in the 42 million litres of the herbicide that was sprayed over their countryside for eight years in the 1960s.”
Teaching students the value of giving is crucial as is helping them develop a wider view of the world, especially being conscious that there is a level of poverty that is beyond our middle class experiences. I’m thinking about how to do this in a way that extends beyond a self-indulgent “servi-tourism”.
Students from our school have been involved in the past in a range of projects, including building stoves in Peru, painting a school in PNG and delivering bicycles to an orphanage in Fiji. To hear students talk about how much these experiences meant to them and the people involved and how it changed their thinking about the world was moving.
Sylvia links to the new K-12 Service-Learning Project Planning Kit, from the National Service Learning Clearinghouse in which includes the following steps:

  • Choosing a meaningful problem for your service-learning project
  • Linking to curriculum standards, citizenship and social-emotional goals
  • Developing an assessment plan
  • Implementing a high quality service-learning activity
  • Designing reflection activities
  • Organizing a culminating event

A Season of Service: Introducing Service Learning into the Liberal Arts Curriculum
Benjamin R. Barber, Richard Battistoni
PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), pp. 235-240

Photo: Tim Barnsley

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Miro – this is cool!

MiroVia Stephen Downes, I checked out Miro, which is: “The only video player you need. Free and open-source, because open media matters…. The app lets you subscribe to RSS channels, download in the background via BitTorrent, and view most video formats in full-screen resolution.” Play video and HD, internet TV, download YouTube, and use BitTorrent.” It has a more than 1500 channels, including TEDtalks, National Geographic Wild, Science Channel, Spanish and German lessons, multiple tech shows and heaps more. You can download it here.


Society from scratch


The following is attributed to Warren Buffet, who when prompted by a question regarding the obligations of the wealthy to society, posed the following scenario: “Let’s say that it was 24 hours before you were born, and a genie appeared and said, ‘What I’m going to do is let you set the rules of the society into which you will be born. You can set the economic rules and the social rules, and whatever rules you set will apply during your lifetime and your children’s lifetimes.’ And you’ll say, ‘Well, that’s nice, but what’s the catch?’ And the genie says, ‘Here’s the catch. You don’t know if you’re going to be born rich or poor, white or black, male or female, able-bodied or infirm, intelligent or retarded.” I’m going to use this as a starter activity for Lord of the Flies.

Relevance and learning by doing

The image “http://www.youthchg.com/hopeless.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.As I go about planning next term, which begins in a week, I’ve been thinking about how to create experiences that make learning more relevant to students, that make connections between the literature we study and the world we live in. I have also been thinking about the difference between cognitive learning (e.g. teaching grammar, vocab, literary terms) and experiential learning (e.g Clay Burrell‘s Global Cooling Collective). The dearth of “learning by doing” in school is frustrating because we know there is more to learning than the abstracted, stimulus-response type activities that predominate. One of the problems with this approach to teaching is that students disengage from the process as they see it as meaningless and arbitrary. Learning by experience, in contrast, is characterised by personal involvement with, and confrontation of, practical, social, personal or research problems. Learning by experience means that students participate in the learning process, have input into the direction and where “self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success”. The question is how do we make this happen within the confines of what we are mandated to teach? Maybe the “teaching the controversy” approach advocated by Doug Noon is one possibility.
I also struggle with my deep-seated belief that writing is, in itself, a worthwhile, valuable activity that has concrete, real-world application but often students don’t see it that way. I hope that changing the focus and assessment may help me to address this. Helping students find their “voice”, providing them with the means for self-expression and to understand and articulate complex thinking are skills they need to help them to become active citizens and problem solvers of the future. I think deep thinking, understanding and communication (written, oral or multimedia) are the natural partners of action.
Jo McLeay
has an interesting description of Year 12 persuasive writing task and how students see this as a “largely artificial writing”. I was heartened to read her comment that: “And yet I see this form of communication as an essential skill in order to be a person of influence and agency in our society.”
I have been thinking about this in response to Clay’s, Teaching Grammar on the Titanic, where he discusses “the problem with me, as a teacher, is that I design units that don’t address anything important. I’ve been trained to think that my job is to stuff the headpieces of the next generation with such irrelevant things as the definition of litotes and onomatopoeia, to write cute little stories about nothing, to know Stratford-upon-Avon. To be able, paradoxically, to think critically about safe subjects.” Konrad Glogowski, in June in the Cruellest Month, talks about “how the desire to compartmentalize learning into neat chunks” and grades fades in comparision to being “engaged not as a teacher who needs to know what the students are doing in order to assess and evaluate, but as a human being whose thirst for knowledge was satiated by a group of fourteen-year-olds who set a goal for themselves – a goal of exploring issues they found relevant and interesting.”

He rightly says that: “I want my students to realize that learning is not about making your work conform to some standard imposed by the teacher. Learning is about creating your own standards and adjusting them based on your goals. Learning is about setting your own goals and monitoring your own progress. It is about having conversations with yourself and others.”

I thought of Foucault’s comment about criticism, which sum of the type of writing I mean; writing that “would multiply, not judgments, but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes – all the better. All the better … It would not be a sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.”

Graphic from: http://www.youthchg.com/

Making more music…

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ERbvKrH-GC4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

This is brilliant – Music and Life, a production by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, was created using recordings from libertarian Alan Watts.
If we apply the metaphor to education, this short film encapsulates how we undermine the joys (the singing and dancing) of learning with our obsession with the finishing point (high stakes test results) and getting there in the fastest and most “efficient” way. Maybe it’s an age thing but I had only vaguely heard of Alan Watts (very famous in the 1950s and 1960s) prior to seeing this – it really made me think about realigning my priorities to make time for a bit more singing and dancing…

Schools of the future???

Via Graham Attwell’s The Wales Wide Web, is a report from the Independent newspaper, School’s Out Forever. Knowsley Council in Merseyside “is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven picture-4.pngstate-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft. The style of learning will be completely different. The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm. Youngsters will not be taught in formal classes, nor will they stick to a rigid timetable; instead they will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests.

Children will be able to study haircare, beauty therapy, leisure and tourism, and engineering as well as the more traditional academic subjects.
They will be given their day’s assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out.”
“Let’s stop right now building new old schools,” said Nick Page, who is in charge of transforming children’s services in Knowsley. “We’re building for the next 25 to 50 years and 25 years is a hell of a long period if we get it wrong.”
Is this the way of the future? The key phrase in this article is “The style of learning will be completely different.” I’ll be curious to explore further exactly what this means.
Self-proclaimed cynic, Mr Read, writes: When you read the material supporting the ‘Knowsley Experiment’ it really is the proverbial Curate’s Egg. There’s some progressive educational theories, spin, Blairite ‘newspeak’, consultants’ verbal diarrhoea, paying homage to Microsoft and the downright dangerous. No teacher who has lived through the arid desert of testing could disagree with ideas about independent learning, problem solving, scrapping rigid timetables and changing the school day. However, at the heart of the ‘Knowsley Experiment’ is an over-reliance on computers and ICT. There’s a great book by the American academic Larry Cuban – ‘Over Sold and Under Used’. He writes about how ‘Integrated Learning Systems’ were promoted as the solution to educational under achievement, all you needed to do was place a pupil in front of a computer with a diagnostic learning system, teachers would become redundant, all you would require is technicians to keep the machines running.”
I don’t think that any thoughtful proponent of ICT has every suggested thatall you needed to do was place a pupil in front of a computer with a diagnostic learning system, teachers would become redundant, all you would require is technicians to keep the machines running.” Teachers using technology are well aware that so-called digital natives’ ability to operate numerous programs, or to listen to itunes while IMing does not equate deep thinking or the development of research skills or being able to communicate complex ideas.
This is articulated by Sylvia Martinez, in Facility Vs Fluency: “We confuse kids’ facility with technology with fluency. We go on about how “tech-savvy” kids are, how the “digital natives” outpace us oldsters in what they can do. In my experience, kids who really know what they are doing technology are the exceptions, the rest of them just muddle through, doing just enough to get by. They just do it quickly, don’t get married to one service or system, and don’t get upset when things don’t work.”
“We wonder why students don’t have good information literacy skills, but we reap what we sow. School has traditionally set itself up to be the single, unquestioned authority – teacher, curriculum, textbook, test — all taking place in a closed classroom, the beginning, middle and end of what the student needs.”
Clay Burrell also voices the frustration teachers feel with confines of the school as we know it, in Goodbye to All of That, where he writes:
“It’s about not being “a Nobody doing anything” when my students are looking for “Somebody doing something” about what they care about. It’s about inviting them to discover that they have the power to do something too. It’s about being a community leader more, and a teacher less. It’s about extending my relationship with these young adults beyond the nine-month term (if church youth group leaders can do it, so can teachers). It’s about re-conceptualizing schools as community action centers instead of walled gardens (or day-care centers, or juvenile detention centers). It’s about designing relevant experiences and projects in which any metaphors or synecdoches that, god help us, they learn, will have a purpose and meaning beyond an alphanumeric grade.”
Image: http://www.dialbforblog.com/archives/241/cosmic_brain.gif





Dissenting Voices

The image “http://hunstem.uhd.edu/image003.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Dean Shareski has written an interesting post, The Honeymoon’s Over, which struck a chord with me because a lot of the criticism of the edublogosphere is that it is a full of repetitive, derivative posts (you could certainly include a number of mine in that) that recycle conversations and preach to the converted. He writes:
“I’ve noticed lately that it seems the edublogosphere is beginning to show more signs of maturing and is looking less like an echo chamber. While I have no clear data I can point to several discussions of late that engage both sides of an issue in some fairly poignant debate.”

I’ve learned so much in the past year reading people’s insights into and tips on improving learning and technology use, especially those of Clay Burrell, Jeff Utecht, Doug Belshaw, Judy Connell and Kim Cofino. Generally, the level of thinking that takes place in this “sphere” is intense, intelligent and progressive. However, there is an absence of critical thinking at times, especially about sources of information and the legitmacy of claims made, which we all promote as something that can be improved through the use of Web 2.0 tools. An example of this is Tom Hoffman’s thoughtful critique of the original Did You Know

He states: “What is particularly disturbing is that this piece has been so unquestionably picked up and promoted by people who spend a significant chunk of their time preaching about “information literacy” and such.”

“Richard” commenting on Hoffman’s post pointed out that: “I looked through a number of the citations and found a number of errors, simplified descriptions of study results, and data that cannot be verified. I find this very troubling. The presentation is authoritative and presents these data as real and concrete. Closer examination shows that they are not at all as concrete as they are presented. I think this is a disservice both to the original audience and to all those who saw the presentation on the web and unwittingly repeat all of this as if it is real.”

This viral video, has racked up 425,599 views on YouTube and 58,656 view on TeacherTube. Karl Fisch estimates that this video has been viewed more than 2 million times, whereas others put the figure at five million. This video is very persuasive and while well-intentioned, is an example of poor research. For me, the teaching “moment” here is: Check, check again and recheck your sources before you publish anything.

Another interesting aspect of writing on blogs is there is a fine line between presenting a divergent viewpoint and coming across as rude. Gary Stager, well-known for not holding back, raises this in an interesting debate on David Warlick’s post how information has changed, when he wrote:
“Here is a dilemma I have been struggling with for some time. The intimacy, folksiness and familiarity of the blogosphere makes every blogger your warm dear close personal friend. What is the proper way to express thoughtful dissent without appearing mean, crazy or uncivil? In other words, What if I totally disagree with you? What if thoughtful dissent requires more than a paragraph to express?”

Other voices of dissent I’ve enjoyed reading include Tim Holt’s deconstruction of talk 2.0 in How to become a keynote speaker. Like any good satirical piece, there is a biting and insightful critique and like most Australians I am a sucker for sarcasm. Another of Holt’s posts, Not Invited to the Buffet, discusses the issue of gender representation among ed tech leaders.

Another, more conciliatory but dissenting voice is Graham Wegner who questions the need for standardised tagging, in The Olympics Effect Theory, and raises the importance of taking an international approach to education and blogging. In a similar vein, Stephen Downes asks wasn’t the whole idea of the folksonomy that there were no standards?

The presence of diverse opinion is what makes the edublogosphere an interesting “place” and having the ability to defend your viewpoint and counter and incorporate different ideas is what reflective thinking is really about.

Cartoon: http://hunstem.uhd.edu/image003.jpg

Lighting fires, not filling buckets – constructivism in the 21st century

I should never be able to fulfill what is, I understand, the first duty of a lecturer – to hand you after an hour’s discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever …. [W]hen a subject is highly controversial … one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Virginia Woolf

Constructivism in the 21st century – what is it and am I doing it?

lightning strike at sea

Anyone with an interest in using technology to enhance learning will constantly hear the term “constructivist” bandied about. I thought that I’d attempt to articulate my own understanding of constructivism and reflect on how I (attempt) to apply it in the classroom. In the past year, I have used wikis and blogs with my classes with varying success. I decided to incorporate these tools to help students be co-creators of knowledge and to facilitate team work, critical thinking and multi-modal literacy skills. An interesting aspect I discovered is that it often it is not only teachers who are attached to teacher-centred learning, so are students. Many students would prefer you to be the “sage on the stage”; to stand up the front and tell them “the” answer because this is easier – learning to think for yourself is hard work.

So, what is constructivism?

Constructivism represents a paradigmatic shift from learning based on a teacher-centric, largely passive, instructional approach (known as behaviourism) to student-centred, active, collaborative learning based on “guided and, increasingly, independent investigation of questions and problems for which there is no single answer.”
Constructivism is, in some ways, a reaction to behaviourist epistemology, which is based on the idea that students’ brains are like empty buckets, which teachers fill up with “objective” knowledge (apologies to WB Yeats). According to Elizabeth Murphy, behaviourism is closely tied to objectivism, a belief in the existence of reliable knowledge. As learners, the goal is to gain this knowledge; as educators, to transmit it.

In contrast, a constructivist approach is based on the idea that learners construct their own knowledge on the basis of interaction with their environment. Social constructivists emphasize that knowledge is constructed through collaboration and social interaction. Sometimes called “active” learning, a constructivist approach “provides opportunities for students to talk and listen, read, write, and reflect as they approach course content through problem-solving exercises, informal small groups, simulations, case studies, role playing, and other activities–all of which require students to apply what they are learning.”

What is student-centred learning?

The following contrasts a traditional, teacher-centered, “chalk and talk” approach with a constructivist approach. The constructivist approach shifts much more of the focus and responsibility for learning to the student.


In “Using the Web to Support Inquiry-Based Language Learning”, Bruce and Bishop summarize the key differences between traditional didactic and constructivist approaches; [old on the left, new on the right.]
* Solve problems vs ask, formulate, find new problems
* Remember the textbook vs Investigate using multiple sources/media
* Follow directions vs create, engage actively in learning
* Work alone vs discuss, analyze, and collaborate; evaluate diverse views
* “Cover” the curriculum vs reflect, evaluate, learn how to learn

So, am I doing this?


Download Video: Posted by cinbarnsley at TeacherTube.com.
My Year 10 English class has just completed a “War and Protest” Unit. We explored persuasive language techniques, various purposes of protest texts and analysed the efficacy of verbal and visual techniques. Last year, the assessment for this required students to “Present 3 to 5 minute oral using power point on a protest text of your own choosing. Write a 300 word reflection of one other presentation. Compare it to your own work.”
The thought of sitting through another 25 PowerPoints made me shudder. I also thought that it would be a more authentic task if students had the opportunity to create their own protest text, which addressed: “What is the most pressing problem in the world today? What can we do about it?” Students had the choice of presenting their text as either a podcast or video, which we would view and discuss and then publish on our class blog, hopefully for others to view and comment on.
Their digital protest texts are fantastic and cover a diverse range of topics from poverty, youth suicide, racism, stereotyping, war, nationalism, the use of fossil fuels, the blood diamond trade and genocide.


terrorism-title.jpgMy history class recently created a wiki on the causes of international terrorism. Students worked in small groups and each chose a particular terrorist group to research with the aim of creating our own terrorism “wikipedia”. Students had to develop the parameters of their research by following these guidelines:

In your research Wiki you should:
• develop five to six questions to direct your research
• consult at least five different primary sources of information
• construct report-style notes (with heading, subheadings and paragraphs) in the wiki explaining the key features and issues
• organise your notes and visuals into a logical sequence to answer the questions you have posed, within the word limit allocated (2000 words)
• use visual aids to help illustrate the issues (Visual aids may include: maps, photographs, graphs, video, diagrams, timelines).
• compile a bibliography of the references you have used

Students became the “experts” on their particular group and presented their findings in the wiki as well as to the group in an oral presentation so they could answer questions about their research. We also had an university lecturer, who specialises in terrorism and law come in and discuss the complexitities of categorising terrorist groups. We could have used a textbook with a more neatly defined parameters or I could have delivered lectures on each group and had them recall the information but I wanted students to dive into this vast pool of information, come out with their own interpretation and debate and justify their findings.

The “results” of this approach are difficult to quantify. Students completed reflective tasks following the presentations and their responses, while anecdotal, reveal that their engagement with the material was high. They had a solid understanding of a range of abstract concepts and made insightful connections between the past and present. They believed that using a wiki enhanced their learning and that they could use these skills in different contexts. But will this bear out in exam results? Does this matter? It worried me that some students’ grasp of content – key terms, events and dates – was weaker than I thought it would be. I don’t know how significant this is. Is the process more important than the memorising the content or are they equally important? I’m taking heart from more experienced teachers than I, like David Warlick, who wrote in a recent post that: “I continue to maintain that when we can not clearly predict our children’s future, it becomes much less important what they are learning, and much more important how they are learning it, and what they are doing with it.”

The image “http://images.jupiterimages.com/common/detail/60/58/22195860.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. W.B. Yeats

Sources: Constructivist Learning Design



xtimeline – could it make timelines interesting?

picture-11.pngHistory is one of my passions in life, but I’ve never found timelines very interesting activities. This could all change with xtimeline, which helps you create a timeline on any subject and multiple users can add information and still images to an ongoing project. You can set up privacy settings to moderate who can contribute, view or comment on a timeline. Below is a photo of a Vietnam War timeline found the site, but I’m more interested in getting students to create their own. We are about to start looking at Decolonisation on Indochina in Senior History so this could be another useful tool for students.


Another open source timeline application is available as part of the MIT SIMILE project, but it looks much, much harder; in fact, it looks too hard.


picture-9.pngWikiMindMap produces a mindmap view of Wikipedia content. According to the developers, it “is a tool to browse easily and efficiently in Wiki content, inspired by the mindmap technique. Wiki pages in large public wikis, such as wikipedia, have become rich and complex documents. Thus, it is not allways straight forward to find the information you are really looking for. This tool aims to support users to get a good structured and easy understandable overview of the topic you are looking for.”

This tool has the potential to help students overcome the “information overload” syndrome by presenting information in a mind map format, which could be great for visual learners. All you have to do is type in a key term, event etc. and the (online) program creates a dynamic mindmap with links to sections in wikipedia. I typed in World War I and the following mind map appeared. I don’t know if I’d use this initially with students as the process of creating a mind map helps them to make connections and develop causal reasoning skills about content they are studying, whereas WikiMindMap does all the work. It could be good for revision or to help navigate the massive amount of information on wikipedia.