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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

DOPA, Thinking Outloud About

I really do try to be a positive guy. So I am reading about how the US House of Reps passed the DOPA bill last night. Will Richardson has already posted about it. It now goes to the Senate. Briefly, DOPA is sponsored by freshman representative (Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.). You can read and come to your own conclusions what the bill states here. In short, if a k-12 school wants government e-rate money then they cannot allow students access to any social networking sites on school property.

CIPA does enough restricting already. Our system blocks so many sites, it is hardly worth using the internet anymore.

As a new media specialist, I have been reading much about how important it is for libraries to update. David Warlick is having an interesting conversation going on right now here and here.

An Unfinished Thought
Well, I'm just thinking...but what if we somehow put these two things together and try to come up with a solution. I think educating students AND parents is an important step in the process of getting over the fear of web 2.0 technologies. Educators who are tech-minded are being stifled by people who fear what they do not understand. Unfortunately, the fretful are also the ones with the power to regulate.

We may not be able to use the access points at school to demonstrate the features and benefits (and yes, precautions) of social networking sites. That means we will have to either find someplace in the community that has (or is willing to offer) free internet access (Panera Bread, Starbucks, etc.) to hold small group meetings with parents. Or enroll parents in an online class using Moodle. Educators may need to be prepared to meet and teach students after school to instill the use and re-creation of information (and the ethics of doing so) outside of school hours...Homework 2.0?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Important, Only One Thing Is

Do you remember the scene in City Slickers when Curly (Jack Palance) holds his finger up and tells Mitch (Billy Crystal), "There's only one thing that matters."? It takes Mitch nearly the rest of the movie to discover that the "one thing" is different for everybody. The "one thing" is a personal one thing that makes one fulfilled, happy, or the employment of their personal gift, etc. You get the idea.

Wouldn't it be great if education was that simple? Find your one thing and do it. Educators, though, are asked to be teachers, parents, leaders, mentors, etc. to all children. It is a frustrating request for most.

I believe the focus in education should be on the learner. We have studied and researched and discovered that children have different learning styles and multiple intellegences. A Google search on "learning styles" results in over 58 million links. The first one was actually interesting. It has a test to determine your learning style.

But what about "Teaching Style?" It is not that it has not been researched. Google shows over 33 million results. After going through several of the pages, it became obvious that the purpose of knowing a teaching style is so the teacher could adjust their natural bent to accomodate the student that doesn't have a learning style consistent with the teaching style. [Indiana State University had an enjoyable read on teaching styles - I'm a natural demonstrating facilitator.]

It seems to me that it might be worth the effort to match the learning styles of students to the coordinating teaching styles of instructors. Could the ability to retain teachers be improved if we coupled them with students who appreciated the methods the teacher was naturally good at using? The argument, it seems, is that teachers model the teachers they had, therefore, we would have an over-abundance of lecture/worksheet teachers. I agree, we cannot continue with only that model in the 21st century classrooms. However, my experience has been that a good teacher is able to take the information from any delivery method, restructure it into the own style, and provide their students with the same information in a different format. They REMIX it if you will. Remixing...is that the sign of the effective 21st century teacher?

Imagine, a teacher able to teach to their own strengths with students whose learning style is matched. Teachers happy, students engaged, and schools thriving. I'm sure their is research to promote my thoughts...but then again I'm sure there is research that opposes this method too.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Time, It's Just A Matter Of

As I said in an earlier post, I have been saving many of the posts I have read over the past months. Most of them are software or online apps that I will talk about once I get to use them in the context of teaching and learning.

There have been several conversations about filtering, MySpace, digital natives vs. digital immigrants (aliens). I work in a system, like most others apparently, which believes it is best to block anything remotely questionable. Instead of teaching, preparing, and using these tools in an educational setting (BTW the best I've seen came from a post be Steve Dembo - MedievalSpaces - simply amazing!), we prefer to promote poor use of the new tools. Again I restate, when an adult says "no," an adolescent's job becomes finding out why. So instead of allowing the teacher the right to use a video from YouTube, or heaven forbid, create a movie for YouTube, we have to tell students that the site is blocked.

The students' interest is now peaked. No more learning will happen on this day, because now the goal is to make it through to the dismissal bell so they can look up all the questionable material on YouTube when they get home. By default, we have promoted the very thing we censor. Then, the next day students begin talking about what bad things they saw, and attention to the class topics are lost again.

I have always believed that students will learn what they want to know. We cannot stop them. We may try to prevent them. But we only postpone the inevitable...our students WILL learn what they want to know. The sad thing is is that schools are not providing them with the things they want to know. Nor are we giving them the guidance they may need to become socially responsible for the material they one day will create.

I know this sounds negative, but I see this as a battle many of us have been fighting for quite some time.

BUT here is the good news I see coming. The next generation of teachers will know Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, ets.) and it will become so commonplace that they will laugh about how we once tried to keep kids from using these kinds of tools. Email will be obsolete (too slow) as IM, Skype, and other tools allow for immediate conversation, that somehow will not seem intrusive. Remember when many scoffed at the idea of having a television in the classroom, of telephones on the wall? I do. These items are now included in all classrooms in newer buildings. Ironically, the television isn't used much...who wants to wait on a schedule or use a video cassette that is so old it has to be tracked in order to get the lines out of the picture? Who wants to ask the media specialist to record some newscast that will not be news by the time tomorrow appears?

[However, the Discovery Education program, United Streaming, has the right idea. Provide historical educational videos, on demand, in digital format. Thanks again to Steve Dembo and his co-workers. I'm not trying to suck-up, just stating that they have the right idea for teaching in today's classroom.]

Changes will happen. Filtering and all it's false security, will fade.

I imagine a school, with a grant from a cell phone provider allowing unlimited text messages (or something even better), with teachers and students using cell phones in class taking a test, instant messaging homework assignments, contacting experts to get their take on a problem, or completing a group project with students from other countries. Educational projects 24/7. Why not? Our kids are already staying up until 3:00 A.M. learning how to use the tools we are blocking at school and making connections with people from everywhere on the planet.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Collaborator, Becoming a Read/Reflect/'Rite

I currently have 72 feeds in my Bloglines account. Most of them are made public (on the right) for all three of my readers. For about six months, I have been in read and save mode. I am just beginning (again) to enter back into the writing activity. The primary reason I stopped writing my blog was the thesis I was writing as part of the Ed.S. program at Valdosta State. Now that I have completed that phase of my life, I am ready to talk/write again.

The blogging break has done me some good. I am gaining new perspectives from the variety of my blog reading. David Warlick, discussed the need to reflect or think before we write. It is a part of Information Literacy I think we sometimes neglect. I have had a lot of think time.

In response to David's post, Will Richardson was pumped by David's first question...
1. What did you read in order to write this blog entry? Yee Haw! Blogging starts with reading, and I read David’s post, which leads me to blogging. (I read some other stuff, too. See below.) And I think an even more interesting question to add is “What was your process of reading?” ...

I have been reading a lot of material.

Back to my point...I realized last night that I have marked over 200 blog entries so I wouldn't forget to go back and read them. Yikes! There is so much good material from so many smart people. I learn so much from the blogs I read. My natural tendency is to synthesize all the seemingly different thoughts into a single world view. It gets messy some times. How can all these ideas, from various sources, from many places, form a singular and complete philosophy of education? Enter George Siemens and his thoughts on Connectivism. There is simply too much to say about connectivism to put much here, other than it is the connecting of people that is quickly becoming the greatest educational opportunity in the world.

So What? Let me see if I can tie all these remnant thoughts together. Standard 9 of Information Literacy is about Social Responsibility.

Standard 9: The student who contributes positively to the learning community and to society is information literate and participates effectively in groups to pursue and generate information.

Indicator 1: Shares knowledge and information with others.
Indicator 2: Respects others’ ideas and backgrounds and acknowledges their contributions.
Indicator 3: Collaborates with others, both in person and through technology, to identify information problems and to seek their solutions.
Indicator 4: Collaborates with others, both in person, and through technologies, to design, develop, and evaluate information products and solutions.

Will, (I've read his work so long I think I know him), calls it the read/write web. If I may be so bold, I would like to call it the read/reflect/write web(the new 3-Rs). Whatever one wants to call it, the opportunity for give-and-take is tremendous.

I have been able to "take" for some time. I hope I can "give" something back, and become a socially responsible, information literate collaborator.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Literacy, Creativity Just As Important As

As an educator, I have never been a fan of standardized testing. I have always wondered why I was required to learn about brain-based learning, how every child is gifted in some way, and all the different learning styles only to be pidgeon-holed into using methods and practices designed to prepare my students for a week-long test in April.

Sometimes I believe that we know the right thing to do, but we are afraid to do the right thing because we lack the confidence in our abilities, ideas, or instincts. We think to ourselves, "What if our students choose poorly on the circle-coloring, high-stakes test in April!? Then I will be wrong, and I don't want to be wrong. I'm a teacher...I can't afford to be wrong: especially now that our profession (at least in the state of Georgia) claims that all decisions are 'data-driven.' My instincts aren't 'data-driven.' I'll go ahead and take the path of/to least resistence, and do it their way. Then if we don't make AYP, at least it's not my fault."

I just want to know whose data we are trusting.

One thing I have come to believe in educating children in the 21st century, is that teaching is more of an ART than it is a SCIENCE. But the current pendulum swing is hanging on the science side of the arc. Could it be that this is why people like David Warlick, Will Richardson, and others (see my blogroll on the right) are so welcomed by teachers and conference organizers? The entries to their blogs are artistic. They are willing to risk saying that education, technology, and children are complicated, unpredictable, and controversial.

Science says, "Block the questionable websites. We have the technology to do it...and it's way cool." Art says, "Try this. Be willing to fail. Be willing to be confronted by others who don't understand. Be ready to answer questions about MySpace and the "risk" of people connecting with each other. Be willing to have students so engaged that you will work harder than ever before, but you will also be more fulfilled in your contribution to society."

From outside the realm of education, I came across this brilliant gem from the 2006 TED. It is a 20-minute, extrememly entertaining, AND educational presentation by Sir Ken Robinson. I watched it once by myself, and then with my 17 year old son...whose response was, "Yep." I took that as an affirmation of the content. Take some time and watch.

Click the Picture - The embed source would not work for me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Opportunity, A New (yet familiar)

Since our school is so large, there will be 2 Media Specialists. The two of us were on team together when I started my career. She taught Language Arts. We worked well together for 5 years. At times we had to do the "good cop, bad cop" thing. Several changes took place in our school after my first 5 years. She became the team leader, I went to the computer apps class, and we could only reminisce about former times and students. I am looking forward to working together again.

I was hoping to get into a Media Center (somewhere) within the next 5 years, and end my educational career in that service. I consider myself to be ahead of schedule. I started my adult life in a service sector (ministry). As a teacher, I always felt the position was one of helping/serving students. But in recent years, teaching doesn't seem to be about helping students as much as it has become teach the standards. I'll be discussing my thoughts on this topic periodically in this blog. For now I will simply end with my hope: that being in the Media Center will give me back the service concept, the "industry" in which I am most comfortable.

Ask, Why do you?

The next educational blog by me. I have had several in the past. Most of them were designed for me to communicate with my students. I have blogged for nearly 4 years.

So why another one? Well, I will find myself in a different capacity next year. I will be one of two Media Specialist at Dalton Middle School in the Northwest corner of Georgia. The title of the blog represents my standard reply to questions I receive as an educator. I have used it with my students to get a clearer picture of what they are really wanting to know or do. I do not see the question changing much in my new position. Now it will extend beyond the 11-15 year olds to the entire population of the school and stake-holders (I hate that term).

I think it is appropriate to answer the first question I have been asked, and will be asked as school begins in August.

Q: Why did you want to go to the Media Center?

A: Truly, because I needed the change. In my 11 years of teaching (10 at Dalton Middle), I have taught Social Studies (5 years) and Computer Applications (5 years). When I began teaching here we were a 7th & 8th grade Jr. High School. There were about 500-550 students. Now we are a 6th-8th grade middle school with over 1300 students. Things have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. I loved being in the classroom, but as standards have changed, NCLB was instituted, and the focus is test scores instead of children, I find that I need to be in a different role.

Q: What is the real reason you are moving?

A: When I began teaching Computer Applications in 2001, I was the sole person who managed my class. I had the ability to block inappropriate websites as I found them. Things were more demanding, yet somehow much simpler and more effective. Now we have a district Technology Department, who under their interpretation of CIPA (and probably DOPA) believe it is more important to block everything, and open it as they review the site for educational possibility. I really don't have a problem with that, except that I may need access to a blocked site this week, and I would have to wait nearly a month for the decision to allow my students to view the content. On a couple of occasions the sites in question were news items from CNN or the NY Times about the furer over MySpace. My own site (a daily blog on assignments and the ability for students to give feedback in the Comments section) was blocked. The students and I really enjoyed the interaction.

It simply became too frustrating for a 21st century teacher who believes it is the educational community's responsibility to teach the appropriate use of modern tools (MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, etc.) rather than ban it. It seems to me that we have forgotten that when an adult says "No" a child (especially an adolescent) will find out a way to get around our opposition on the sly. I figure as a Media Specialist, I will have opportunities to conduct parent clinics that will show them what all the new online world is like. That's one of my goals anyway.

So...for now, welcome to my new blog. I hope you can access it at work.

Modern book-burning is called site-blocking.