Sunday, October 17, 2010

Creating My Hub Without Reinventing the Wheel

Before I left the classroom (the bricks and mortar one that is), I was feeling excited and competent in creating a writer's workshop environment in my classroom. Now I want to do that online but before I start I want to think through how I want that to look and what the best tool(s) are for doing that.

Basically (hah) I want to provide students with a site that contains all my resources for each step of the writing process, and the six traits of writing without an exhausting maze of links. As well I would like to provide each student with a page or place to publish their work within our online school walls. I teach grades 8-12 English in Moodle. The classes are generally small and so my thought is to have an outside source to provide the same resources to several grades of students.

Whether in a lesson in Moodle, in direct feedback to the student or a general email, I could link to these sources when needed. I would like to post current events as lists of possible writing topics, student writing samples, and links to web 2.0 tools.

So....keeping in mind that I currently present writing tasks in assignments within my Moodle courses, but would like to incorporate at least one block of true writer-centered writing, how would this all be best organized?
Website? Wikispace? Blog? A combination? Pageflakes?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

PLNs....not just for teachers.

To state the obvious, Web 2.0 has paved the way for more professional development than I could have ever imagined back when I was starting out as an educator. (Did I just date myself or what?) I'm self-motivated, I'm applying and synthesizing my knowledge, and I have complete control of how my involvement is progressing and in what direction I want to take. I don't get any of the traditional rewards (cold hard cash, pretty grade letters near the beginning o the alphabet), yet that isn't a consideration at all. I have numerous opportunities for self-reflection and collaboration. Meanwhile, I'm writing more than ever before, I'm feeling more comfortable about sharing my writing, and I've learned how to use a heap of web 2.0 tools.

After that jargon filled, cliche ridden, Bloom's taxonomy flavored introduction, you must see where I'm going with this.
Woman Computer Scientist/Kobieta informatykIllustration : Anna Borska, « Woman Computer Scientist/Kobieta Informatyk », 18.7.2009, Flickr (licence Creative Commons).

Note all words that make a student cringe are identified in quotations.
What if my highschool English students were given the opportunity to pursue a passion of theirs as a "unit" of study? What if the "assignment" were simply to pursue their passion? Take a topic and research it, compile information about it, reflect on it, create on it, share it, act on it. What would the "criteria" be. How would it be "assessed"?

Would this cause them, as I am now, to write a blog post on a Saturday night and peruse their RSS feed for hours while simultaneously taking part in a free online course instead of watching the movie they'd rented earlier? I'm getting silly, but you get my drift (and for the record, I don't do this every Saturday night).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bathwater and the baby? Not again!

As a distributed learning teacher I continue to see at least two or three new students a week. I'm getting students who are too anxious to go to school or even leave their homes. Others have burned bridges with a teacher but still need to get credits to graduate. Then there are those who are busy training for nationals, or modelling in Paris, or doing missionary work in Mexico (all true examples). I'm excited that with technology we can offer flexible programs that students can work at anywhere at anytime. Here it comes.....BUT.....

...what about the teacher I talked to today who couldn't get his students to verbalize their learning until he asked them all to text him about it?

...what about my husband's comment at dinner about how important socials skills are in negotiating a contract is in his line of work? You know, ones like reading peoples' expressions and body language, articulating clearly your thoughts on the spot, and knowing when to listen and when to interject in an appropriate way?

...what about the student with anxiety? Is enabling her to work at home going to help with her coping skills?

What is going to happen if in our eagerness to provide students with all these wonderful tools and give them all that flexibility and choice they miss out on learning some valuable skills that they get in a face-to-face setting?

Hopefully in this shift we are experiencing in education, we as teachers won't throw out those skills and know to maintain a balance.

Just thinking out loud here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Using Diigo With Students

I've recently signed up with Diigo, a bookmarking site that is much more as it allows one to highlight parts of a webpage, attach public sticky notes to send comments back and forth, create lists to easily share, and even create groups where members can contribute bookmarks.

After reading this post over at Bright Ideas and reflecting on a conversation I had with a colleague today, here's some thoughts on using Diigo with students.

Ideas for Activities:

Create a booklist to share with your students when suggesting titles for reading fiction. Booklists could be tagged by genre also to be more specific.

Better yet use the group feature and have the students create a booklist of their most recommended books. The highlight feature could be used to highlight a favourite passage and the sticky note feature would allow students to comment on each others selections.

During a topic of study, students could add to a group list whenever there is a useful resource found. They could be asked to annotate the site to practice summarizing.

Students could be shown a list of websites that they could evaluate by using the sticky note feature to comment right on the site.

A "Toolbox" list could be compiled for repeating tasks throughout the year. Research tools, Writing poetry, Study skills, Math manipulatives are a few I think of right off the bat. This could be made available to parents too!

Educators Accounts are available for educators that allow students to be set up quickly with their own accounts and special privacy settings. This would be necessary to ensure student's bookmarks would only be shown to other classmembers. There is a suggestion that a teacher might set up two accounts one for personal and one for work.

Things to Consider:

I am still figuring out how the public and private options work in Diigo. When I imported all my bookmarks I made them all public in order to create lists to share with others. I figured all my bookmarks were mostly educational or of an "ordinary" nature. What I found interesting was when all my tags were listed together, one could actually find out quite a bit about my private life. For example, it would be easy to figure out where I lived from the tags with place names in them, and it would be obvious that I had two children and I even had their names as tags (which I quickly changed). I randomly selected another profile of a user who had shared a list. It had a number of specific legal tags that led one to assume this person was having legal difficulties. Awkward!

I see that there are different ways to both share tags, lists, comments and ways to make them private. Part of the beauty of this website is collaborating with others to create groups and lists of bookmarks but is important to be aware of all the different options for doing so.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Here a Ning, There a Wiki...Information Overload!

(To the tune of Old Macdonald)
Here a Ning, there a wiki, everywhere a blog, blog, blog OMG too much info! EIEIO.

So I've discovered the wonderful world of the edublogosphere. So many ideas, so many conversations. So many apps. So exciting. Yet so overwhelming. Is it just me that feels compelled to sort and organize every bit of information that I encounter?

Here's a great quote I found "That in spacious knowledge there is much contristation, and that he that increaseth knowledge increaseth anxiety." Bacon

It all starts with my Google Reader account that I visit more often than I should. For me this has become a form of relaxation and entertainment. At the same time I want to keep track of every good quote, every link to a useful web tool, every new book mentioned I might read someday. So yes, I have lists (I use Todoist for that), and I have a notebook (I just switched from Google Notebook to Zoho Notebook), and I bookmark (Google bookmarks and just created a Diigo account).

However, I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't need to collect EVERYTHING. So I've tried to come up with a few simple rules to help manage my new addiction.

Jodie's Rules for Managing Information Overload:

Set PRIORITIES: One of those practices that are so important, yet so often overlooked. Take time to sort out what is important in your life, those big overall values and goals that should direct how you choose to spend your time. Post those priorities somewhere where you will revisit them often. ...remember BABY STEPS.

Set a TIME LIMIT: It is so easy to lose track of time and space when using the computer. Use an actual timer (I bet there's an app for that) and set a predetermined amount of time that is to be spent.

Set a PURPOSE: Pretty shiny things are at every turn on the Internet, so unless your purpose is to entertain yourself by surfing aimlessly (and that's okay sometimes), literally write down on a sticky note in big words your task or a focus word to remind you of what you are trying to accomplish (hmmm, I wonder if there is an app for that?)Hopefully your eye will wander to it when you find yourself signing up for another Ning and joining an online podcast when you are supposed to be paying your bills.

Set up a SYSTEM: For the information that you come across that you really do want to remember, put it somewhere where you can find it again. Ironically I've found the same technology that is causing me stress, is also very useful to alleviate it, if I use it properly. So I'll continue to use online tools like Diigo and Zoho Notebook and Todoist...just with a timer. :) I've found David Allen's book and well known "system", GTD, very helpful in creating a feeling of control in my life. One of GTD's main ideas is that to keep the mind free to be creative and calm there needs to be a safe place to collect everything and got it off your mind.

Is there anything I should add or does anyone have some general tips and/or tools for managing information overload?

...and should I admit how much time I spent writing this post? ;)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Story So Far

I work in a small distributed learning program in B.C. I work part time and teach grades 8-12 English and Socials online using Moodle. I have been in the program for several years and have seen the world of DL in B.C. and elsewhere change drastically. What keeps me in this program despite the many challenges presented daily are the possibilities that a program such as ours could offer.

Our Curriculum
I am in the process of improving the online courses I have access to. Our district is part of a consortium of DL schools (BCLN) whose purpose is to collaborate to improve the existing courses. I want to make them less like working out of the textbook and incorporate tools to create curriculum that will provide choice, interest and success for our students.
The challenge?
Part time teacher + 14online courses+various paper based courses=...well, you do the math. And I know there are many teachers in DL programs in the same situation.
The solution? My goal is to help promote collaboration within our district and the BCLN to pool our resources and time to create courses that take advantage of some of the wonderful technology that is available to create rich learning environments.

Our Students:
We are increasingly getting students who haven't succeeded in the "regular" schools and we are a last resort as it were. These are not independant students with stable homes to support their learning, exactly the opposite in fact. We are also seeing students starting to come to us that want to upgrade, that want to take a course outside of the timetable, or for whatever reason are realizing that there is a choice out there. So we have built it, and they are coming, but we need to makes sure that when they arrive, the courses they are given meet their needs. Oh, did I mention that these students arrive at our doorstep every week so our courses need to be asychronous and self-directed.
The challenge?
At best, I would love to create a course that:
a. is differentiated for all learners
b. self-paced yet interactive with other learners
c. offers choice without overwhelming the students
d. is suitable to be done mostly independantly of a "live" teacher

Our teachers
I am aware of a number of small programs (alternate ed., hospital homebound, etc.) in our district that are run by hard-working teachers that must deal with many behaviour and social issues and still provide, mark and track curriculum in a number of subjects and grades. We are experimenting with a model where a student might have an online curriculum teacher who is a specialist in that subject (what a novel idea!) that can be accessed from any computer, while at the same time the student would still have a classroom teacher who would then be able to concentrate on a behaviour plan, case management, work skills etc.

Like I said the possibilities are there, but so are the challenges. For a teacher who works full-time in a classroom, those possibilites may seem too out of the box and the logistics alone are huge. It is only recently that personnel in our district have become aware that we even exist and only recently that some have started to see how we might all work together to provide better services to our students. ...and that's the story so far.

There's Always Tomorrow.

I am both excited and somewhat nervous to have joined a group called Blogger's Alliance. Thanks to Kelly Tenkely for starting this group. I joined to jumpstart my writing on this blog and to meet and talk with other educators. I keep reading about PLNs (personal learning networks) and want to explore this more.

But what have I gotten myself into? I have spent the last two hours reading some recent posts from members while simultaneously making a roast dinner, preventing my 3 yr old from breaking down his older sister's door, and finishing the laundry. I feel like I have walked into a class where I must have missed the first two weeks because EVERYBODY's blog seems so polished, so pretty, so perceptive. What I am doing wasting everyone's time here? Where are the other beginners?

Part of me wants to quietly slip out the back door, head to admissions and see if I can still enroll in "Tetris Revisited", but I'm going to stick around and see what happens. I know that since I have started reading blogs on education I have learned more and been more inspired than most of the traditional pro-d sessions I have attended. And from the posts I've read so far, I've stumbled upon not a group of beginning bloggers and tentative technologists like myself, but some very dedicated and talented teachers. I feel a bit like a kid in a candy store with a stomachache from trying to many new things, but can't wait to come back next week and do it all over again.

I see the purpose of this blog to clarify my thinking and progress on projects I am working on (online writing workshop, using voicethead, creating class blogs) and the role of our DL program with our district. If I'm going to ask my students to blog and be part of an active online community, I want to have experienced that personally. Not to mention having an immediate audience will get me off my procrastinator's duff. A theory I'm hoping will work with my students also.