Sunday, November 25, 2012

Curiosity, Imagination and Engagement

Don't we all want to be engaged in what we do? Don't we all want to be curious and imaginative? As a child, I was wrapped up in my fantasy world, as many children are. When I became a parent, I was pretty sure I would have no problem taking part in my children's fantasy play. I wasn't going to be too busy like my mother who always had chores and errands. So naive... of course I was too busy. Even when I did consciously make the time, I discovered something horrifying. I wasn't able to occupy the fantasy world I once made my own. What happened to me?! Obviously adulthood happened and with it came a whole host of responsibility. I couldn't quite leave my real world as easily as my kids could. It was work for me to walk away from everything that "needed" to be done and when I did make time (and my kids invited me!), I found the ability to think up dialogue as an imaginary character was gone. I was out of practice. Such simple concepts, curiosity, imagination and engagement, and yet they were as far from me as if I had never had them.

Is this what happens when adults plan educational units? Did we forget to include the opportunities for speculation and wild imaginings in favor of dry explanations and concrete outcomes? What happened to amazement and delight when something unexpected happens? We have spent this course discussing knowledge - how it is obtained (or not), what we do with it, how we communicate it, how we grow more - and how to make knowledge accessible, shared, and relevant to our students. The following video from DML Research Hub and the following questions from the "Dangerously Irrelevant" blog emphasize the importance of curiosity, imagination and engagement.

Connected Learning: 'ENGAGED' from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

Questions from Dangerously Irrelevant

  • we are fundamentally starting with the wrong questions 
  • we start with learning outcomes – and content defines everything – rather than “what is the experience we want kids to have?” 
  •  our core question is around engagement; if you ask “is a kid engaged?”, you have to pay attention to and start with the kid 
  • we have to make room for curiosity, we don’t have enough opportunities for kids to take things apart and wonder about them
  •  little opportunities to fail and iterate are also opportunities to play with identity 
  • we need opportunities to explore who we are in the world and how the world works, particularly as teenagers 
  • we so decontextualize learning for kids, we’ve forgotten we have a passion for learning in school they could care less, but in complex games kids demand that they learn how to do something so they can move on 
  • as adults, we have to deeply connect content and students’ activity, otherwise learning has no meaning
As an adult learner in the field of education, who has spent a grand total of two and half months learning about educational theory, I believe that connectivism and constructivism are keys to student engagement, a lively imagination and offer us and our students opportunities for curious exploration.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

PLEs vs. T(raditional)L(earning)E(nvironment)s

Our resources this week covered Personal Learning Environments and what learners can do to enhance their own understanding. Salman Khan discussed his cousins and the origin of Khan Academy, a 7th grader talked about what she wants to study, and the Xtranormal video pitted a digital learner against a traditional teacher (who happened to think he was appealing to digital learners by scanning in worksheets/information). The last resource I listened to was the Xtranormal and one of the YouTube choices that showed up on the side was: "Schools out - Personal Learning Environments."

In this video, the narrator talked about the powerful devices many students carry around - their smart phones - and the administrator/teacher reaction which was "turn it off." He also said, at the 2:30 mark (in case you don't want to watch all of it), that schools have lots of technology but much of it is designed to "manage learning, not to facilitate learning and not to share that learning." The video was made in 2008 and when confronted by technology that conflicted with the then current style of teaching and assessment, the trend was to back away from it or manage it.

It's been four years since the video was uploaded to YouTube and for many folks, the tendency is still to turn away or attempt to "manage" new technologies, lock them down or allow them in a substitution kind of way.  At times, in our Traditional Learning Environment (TLE), administrators, threatened by being "identified," will turn to "canned software" designed to raise scores, rather than encouraging tools that allow for sharing and collaboration. Perhaps the thinking is: if we're using this kind of software which is technology, we must be indulging our digital learners. If anything, this software is emphasizing the same types of learning that digital learners are trying to move away from - that of isolated, one size fits all type of learning. Even though students can move at their own rate and teachers can pick assignments from a list of topics, it's being presented in exactly the same way for each child. Students can't share this knowledge with others and experience "aha" moments as others take their ideas, expand upon them and share them back with new meaning. Canned software also doesn't allow for students to go elsewhere online just because they want to know. It provides knowledge about but it stops short of allowing for knowledge of.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Private Universe

How many times have I thought I knew something and when asked how it works or the basic concepts, was at a loss for the explanation? Unfortunately, too many times! Sometimes I feel I should know it and what I end up doing is explaining the same thing over again but with different words. It doesn't change the fact that I didn't know or only knew enough to discuss it shallowly.

I feel this was the case in "A Private Universe." I wonder if the fact that the first students interviewed were Harvard students was meant to shock viewers in some way. The reality is just because someone attended Harvard doesn't automatically grant them intellectual knowledge in all fields - any more than a child born in the 90's is automatically a genius with technology. Beyond that, it wasn't necessarily surprising that the Rindge and Latin students weren't able to "flesh" out seasonal shifts, the earth's rotation and moon phases correctly. My own particular bias is that I feel that when confronted by a "deficit," we are apt to fill it, especially if pressed for an answer.

If we're filling a deficit, how did we get the information? This is just pure speculation backed up by my own personal experience, with absolutely no empirical data... Now that I've issued that caveat, let's move on...

The Knowledge Building article discussed iterative idea improvement with the thought that students engaged in knowledge building will continue to explore and expand their thinking about topics over longer periods of time than just the span of a traditional unit. In a traditional class and school, however, students study topics over a set period of time and then move on to other topics. Many of the points made during those units that a student "learned" fall by the wayside but some remain, becoming vague over time. Discussions with others outside of class, perhaps at home with parents or siblings might add more detail. Books, even fictional ones, on that topic may add more information. None of these "sources" may be completely right or wrong but the information may be remembered, if somewhat altered. Is it possible that, years later, when asked about that particular topic, the student is able to pull all sorts of extraneous, half remembered facts together, piece it together, and present a viable theory? Chances are there will be a memory of studying something in class but the information that is now present may be the compilation of sources - spun with that individual's personal theory or bias.

The part that was startling in all of this was that the teacher was surprised. She seemed shocked at their theories and that they came in with incorrect knowledge. Considering the age of the student, it wasn't shocking at all. Once could be reasonably certain that the topic of the sun, the earth and the moon had come up in earlier grades.

Speculation like this makes it clear why I called this blog "Musings from Tis..."

Rethinking Learning

As I troll the Internet, looking for just the right resources for my mini-course, I'm struck by just how many times I've sidetracked and followed links to other oh, so fascinating articles and videos that are not actually going to help me in my quest for resources. If I would stick to the assignment I've given myself, I would make progress on my project. Instead I'm here, there, and everywhere with the information I find. Then, of course, it's too good not to share so I immediately put it in my blog (like now), email it to a friend, share it on a website... and I wonder why my project is taking so long to get going.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Are We Illiterate in the 21st Century...

...if we read and write? By most people's standards, the answer is no, of course not! We are, after all, reading and writing. Would that not be the goal? Well... this MAT610 and we are learning about different theories of learning or essentially how to learn and how we learn. Quite frankly, reading and writing is not enough to be "literate" in the 21st century.

Recently, I viewed a YouTube video, ISTE 2012 - Expanding Horizons, that had a quote attributed to Alvin Toffler:  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”  The quote was rephrased from  Herbert Gerjuoy ( “The new education must teach the individual how to classify and reclassify information, how to evaluate its veracity, how to change categories when necessary, how to move from the concrete to the abstract and back, how to look at problems from a new direction—how to teach himself. Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn." 

This was not written recently. Alvin Toffler quoted this in his book, Future Shock, in 1970. What is relatively new is the speed and ways in which knowledge turns over and is remixed and recreated. In the article, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Siemens states that learning occurs in a variety of ways, from PLN to experiential. No longer is it possible nor desirable to remain in the educational silo (or ivory tower), dependent on textbooks or prior learning to educate students for tomorrow's world. Alec Couros' VoiceThread makes that clear as teachers remark over and over again the necessity for networking through different channels; Lisa Lane emphasizing that the professional development provided to her is no longer enough, and others stating how the development of their PLN expands and enhances their practices.

So, no, it is not enough just to be able to read and write. We must develop our own networks, consisting of our colleagues, virtual and physical, ascertain the validity of information and remix/recreate to send out through our own pipe. I believe that when we understand this process, we are learning to learn.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Innovation in Education

I've spent a fair amount of time considering the concept of "early adopters" and "laggards" (in reference to Rogers' theory "Diffusion of Innovations") as shown on the diagram in Scott McLeod's blog, "Dangerously Irrelevant." Usually I associate the first term with technology users, probably because my focus is almost always technology and its use. As I spend more time in the education world, I'm aware that these terms and, indeed the entire graphic could be applied to other areas - education being one of them.

Last month I had the privilege of attending a 1:1 conference at Lake Morey Resort, in Fairlee, VT. The Director of Information Technology, Paul Irish, spoke about devices and initiatives and referenced education as pendulum. He talked about technology's role in education and said "the pendulum has swung, and it isn't coming back." We have probably all heard educators say something to the effect that there's no point to learning about or initiating a new theory when, in another few years, there will be something new or we will return to the old - much like a pendulum. That said, there is no pendulum for technology. There never has been - just like we won't return to slates and chalk or the horse and buggy days. Technology is going to move forward, with or without us. Whether we are, by nature, an early adopter or a laggard, it is our responsibility to acknowledge technology's role in educating our children, redefining careers (including our own), and helping to shape new expectations. No, it isn't a panacea, it's simply a tool - but what a tool it is! We can't afford to be laggards; there's too much at stake.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Connectivism + SAMR?

As a Tech Integrationist, I'm constantly on the lookout for new technologies - ideas, tools, shortcuts, techniques - you name it, I'm intrigued. The ideas of "repurposing" and "feeding forward" put forth by Stephen Downes as mentioned in the article, " ' Connectivism" and Connective Knowledge," reminds me that, as we grow in tech use and abilities, we do this more and more. It seems to me that Connectivism and the SAMR model of technology integration have much in common.

I think of it in this way, especially for people when they first learn a new technology: people are introduced to a program and they use it much like they are originally shown. Soon, they become comfortable with a tool ("Substitution") and they stretch their usage of it. They add elements ("Augmentation"), perhaps other tools, and later share their new creation. Perhaps their new creation is unlike anyone else's - because they added not only information gathered from elsewhere but they put their spin on it and showed it in an entirely different way - due to their perception and technology combinations. This feels to me like "repurposing" and of course, "feeding forward" but it also feels like they added in the transforming levels of the SAMR model: "Modification" and "Redefinition."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Connections in the Real World

When I begin to "put things together," I notice I see connections everywhere. Did I always do that or is this just part of being in edtech, and now in a Master's program, where new ideas abound?

Today, I opened an email from Tech and Learning, and clicked on a link that came from a discussion on the digital divide. It was referencing an event, hosted at the Clinton Global Institute (CGI), regarding the future of education. Being a curious person, I couldn't help following the link to see their perspective on education's future. I didn't actually find the event, stopping instead (I have no idea why I did that...) on "Membership." On this page, there was a description of the model they use for their actions:

Eureka! They described Connectivism! A huge "Aha!" moment as I read about their pipe, how information flows through and new ideas are plumbed from partnerships. Amazing stuff...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Kind of Learner...

... am I?

I had an interesting conversation with another teacher during a planning time. We were talking about styles of learning and she said she thought she was a visual and kinesthetic learner. We talked about her experiences as a learner. She said she wasn't that interested and tended to "zone out" when she was in high school in the 1960s. I asked her if she was more curious now than she was as a teenager. Oh, definitely, she is, she said.  She said she learned considerably more about herself as a learner when she did her Master's because the approach had changed by the time she attended those classes. It was more participatory and collaborative. Obviously, the instructionism with herself as an "empty vessel" that needed filling didn't really work for her. The few times she was given the opportunity to offer an opinion, she wouldn't want to participate because she was unsure of her opinion.

It was interesting how much she sounded like me. As a teen a decade later than her, I was also unsure of how to communicate my thoughts. I tended to think about something I heard first and then try to formulate a response. Those who were quicker and more confident would speak first and the topic move on quickly. I never said what I thought about the subject and was never able to articulate opinions.

This segues nicely into a part of Sawyer's New Science of Learning chapter. He talks about articulation on p. 12: "the best learning takes place when learners articulate their unformed and still
developing understanding, and continue to articulate it throughout the process of learning." He later discusses the idea of learning how to support students through the process of articulation and that scaffolding is one of the most effective ways to do it. He put it this way: "Students need help in articulating their developing understandings; they don't yet know how to think about thinking, and they don't yet know how to talk about thinking." As educators, we would serve our students best if we understood more about the articulation process as well as we know the subject matter. What are the questions that would help them formulate and refine their thoughts? What questions do we need to ask to find out what they already know? How do you give them enough information to ask a question but not so much that you have provided the answer? If they don't know what they don't know, how do they know what to ask? Hmmm....

So what kind of learner am I? I think I'm like that other teacher - visual and kinesthetic.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Machine Thoughts

While poking around the "Mod 1 Resources" section, I found "The Machine is Us/ing Us" and of course, the provocative title proved irresistible. I had to check it out. I was intrigued by the path the author took from handwriting to digital and hyperlinked text. A number of years ago, a tech friend said he was sick of hearing about Web 2.0. "It's the same Internet as before" was his take on the concept of Internet use. I didn't respond. I'm not sure I knew what to say but now I do...

Of course, it isn't the same Internet! Once upon a time, the two way communication of the Internet was reserved for those who knew html. This rarefied atmosphere was occupied by programmers and geeks of all kinds (so he was communicating!) but not the casual user. We had one way communication. We asked for and received information. All kinds of information arrived on our screens but we didn't give any back. Now, that's changed and it's opened to the masses. We talk, we type, we visit via video conferencing, we share information. Bruner (p. 52) made mention of group collaboration as a way of creating knowledge and isn't that what we are capable of doing now?

The less than "sunshiney" side of this new, fabulous fast, everchanging digital communication is that some of us do it without regard to authorship, copyright and citizenship. The author is right when he says we need to rethink. Technology has moved quickly and we have not responded socially as fast. There is no doubt in my mind that the advances have had and will continue to have so many positive implications. Yet, as any sociology/anthropology major could have predicted, there were, and are, bound to be negative and traumatic events due to our inappropriate use of this medium. Two days ago, tragedy occurred in Libya, following a posting of a video and subsequent translation of it into Arabic. Our actions are not local anymore; they're global. We need to rethink...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In the Beginning...

As I begin this blog, and a new class, I like to consider what I already know (or what I think I know). I'm intrigued by the idea of change over time and curious as to how what I think/believe now will be enhanced, changed, and strengthened over the course of this class. 

Our conversation in the first class, strangely heated (but stimulating!) considering that we really don't know each other that well, involved the difference between learning and knowledge. It seemed we had some trouble agreeing on the definitions of the terms themselves, with some feeling that learning was more likely to be rote memorization and knowledge was a deeper ownership.

What do I believe so far? I think rote memorization occurs in more situations than we realize. Sometimes we learn something just long enough for its utility, i.e. tests, directions, names of people, recipes. If it's important, we may keep the information longer but not  necessarily, and may need to go back and retrieve it, only to lose it again. If we're intrigued by it, made connections to it, argued it, loved it, hated it, experienced it, we're apt to keep it longer. Perhaps we'll keep it forever because we take it out, look at it and place it in a special location so it can be found easily. Sometimes that knowledge, or learning (whatever term is suitable), will be expanded and strengthened, building upon core principles, blended with prior knowledge, and fleshed out into action.

What do I believe now, at the beginning of this class? I have always leaned to the constructivist theories as described on the website "Concept to Classroom." While I understand the idea of teachers as "experts," I feel that students understand less if they listen passively rather than become actively involved in their educational experiences. I believe that:

  • some of our fallback strategies with children involve what we learned from our own teachers when we were in grade school or the parenting techniques we observed in our own families.
  • people, not just students, are often bored with lectures. This isn't new because of constant stimulation from TV or video games. Our minds are busy all the time and not always the eager sponges lecturers would like to believe. As teachers, sometimes we need to be the "sage on the stage." Other times, we need to listen, watch, question. An active dialogue will tell an educator more about what a student knows and believes than telling students what they need to know.
  • people learn by watching, doing, reading, listening and in any combination at different points. They remember because it made a difference when they learned it.

Knowing Little


I have been a "teacher" for just over four years. I used quotations because my colleagues, for whom I have the utmost respect, are "real" teachers with students of their own, as classroom, Title or SPED teachers. They discuss the rationale behind the strategies and will quite often quote the theorists behind the strategies. My time in the educational world has been spent more on the tech side. I became the bridge between the technicians, who often didn't speak English - just tech-ease, and the teachers who were overwhelmed by the demands and complexities of technology. I learned both sides from observation and by "doing." I saw the success some teachers had with their classes and, after some practice, used some of those strategies myself. What I did not know was why they did what they did. So...
  • why did they choose that style of learning, i.e. constructivism, multiple intelligences, project based learning?
  • were they choosing that strategy because of the dynamics of the class?
  • was it a different style compared to what they had done previously?
  • how did they shape their practice for differentiation purposes?