Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Semantic web is coming

The following Semantic Web Tutorial was taken from :

http://www.w3schools.com/semweb/default.asp (using evernote, I might add, try it, you'll love it!)

The word semantic stands for the meaning of.
The semantic of something is the meaning of something.
The Semantic Web = a Web with a meaning

The word semantic stands for the meaning of.
The semantic of something is the meaning of something.
The Semantic Web = a Web with a meaning.

What is the Semantic Web?
The Semantic Web is a web that is able to describe things in a way that computers can understand.

The Beatles was a popular band from Liverpool.
John Lennon was a member of the Beatles.
"Hey Jude" was recorded by the Beatles.

Sentences like the ones above can be understood by people. But how can they be understood by computers?

Statements are built with syntax rules. The syntax of a language defines the rules for building the language statements. But how can syntax become semantic?

This is what the Semantic Web is all about. Describing things in a way that computers applications can understand it.

The Semantic Web is not about links between web pages.

The Semantic Web describes the relationships between things (like A is a part of B and Y is a member of Z) and the properties of things (like size, weight, age, and price)

"If HTML and the Web made all the online documents look like one huge book, RDF, schema, and inference languages will make all the data in the world look like one huge database."

Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, 1999

"I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize."

Tim Berners-Lee, 1999


One of the blogs I follow is entitled “Flow” by Wendy James. I’m not sure when she created the blog but the name intrigues me as I had read about the concept in a book by Daniel Pink called “Drive”. According to Wikipedia, “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields."

"According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”

This graphic illustrates that flow occurs when the challenge of a task and skill level are both high. In his book, Pink describes a phenomena called “Goldilocks tasks”, where the task at hand is just challenging enough to test the skills of the learner, not too hard and not too easy. Flow can occur when teachers and students face tasks that are appropriate for their skill (and interest) level.

This relates well to the SPSD objectives of student engagement, in particular, competency. Briefly, the components of student engagement are:

1. Competency- students need to feel like they can master the material

2. Potency- students need to have power in their learning

3. Belonging- students need to belong to a group with some common beliefs or goals

4. Relevance- students need to think the subject matter has something to do with them

There is also a video game invented by Jenova Chen which utilizes Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Goldilocks tasks and flow called Flow. “Flow is part of Chen's thesis research at the University of Southern California's Interactive Media Division and includes an embedded design of dynamic game difficulty balancing which allows players with different skill levels to intuitively customize their experiences and enjoy the game at their own desired pace.” (Wikipedia)

In terms of change management, people within an organization will be capable of change depending on the skills they have and the challenge the change poses to them. Change leaders need to help set the stage for change and enable stakeholders to be a part of the change at their level. This does not mean that everyone will be comfortable with the change. In every school I have been in, some teachers say that they are afraid of computers and technology. One of the challenges that change leaders face is to help staff find the “Goldilocks level” for them, so that they can be part of the “flow”.

Perhaps most importantly, staff will need to own the change (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement), yet will need on-going professional development and guidance over a long term. What a nice thought, 21st century schools, with flow!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Intrinsic Motivation: the only way to go for schools

Have you ever said to your students, “Missing this assignment will affect your report card!”? Have you ever given out pizza coupons for reading books? Pencils for returning an important newsletter? How do you feel about honour roll for students above an 80% average? Have you ever bribed kids with marks to read or do homework? Pay children to complete tasks? Pay children for marks on a report card?

How effective are these methods? Do you do persist in using rewards even though you don’t believe they work? What is the alternative?

Daniel Pink talks about intrinsic motivation in his book “Drive”. He makes a strong case that extrinsic motivation does not work. He cites a study that only 50% of the U.S. work force is engaged at work. The rest are unengaged and unmotivated. In a study in Sweden, blood donors were paid to give blood. The number of donors actually went down. Pizza coupons given out for reading in elementary school has little or a negative effect. Offering increased pay for increased engagement and productivity is not effective.

He argues that extrinsic motivation can:

  1. extinguish intrinsic motivation

  2. decrease performance

  3. foster short term thinking

  4. crush creativity

  5. encourage cheating

  6. become addictive

Intrinsic motivation increases engagement, performance, creativity, satisfaction, long term thinking and, one might argue, becomes addictive. He describes heuristic activities as enjoyable in the process of the “doing”, with no set path towards success, no one right way to the end product. It is often in these activities that “flow” can be achieved. The motivation for the task lays in the task itself, not the product and certainly not the reward.

The opposite of heuristic are algorithmic tasks, where there is one set, correct path to one correct outcome. I think some people can be fully engaged and intrinsically motivated in algorithmic tasks, depending on their personality and learning style.

People want to be intrinsically motivated as suggested by the things like the rising demand for “vocation vacations”, where tourists travel to volunteer in another country. He talks a lot about companies like Google and 3M who give their employees 20% of work time (Fedex. Days) to create projects of their own. In fact, Google employees created products such as google translate, orkut, talk and sky during their Fedex. time. His main argument is that intrinsic motivation emerges when people have autonomy over their:

1. Task- having some choice as to what they work on

2. Time- having some choice as to when they do the work

3. Technique- having some choice as to how they choose to complete the task

4. Team- having some choice as to who they work with on the task

He includes a chapter on education. He makes several recommendations for teachers and parents. They are:

1. Change from assigning “home work” to “home learning”. Tasks to be completed at home should increase intrinsic motivation by being interesting and involve real thinking, creating and problem solving.

2. Consider having Fed. Ex. time in your classroom for the students to create and learn about something of their own choosing. They will still need to be held accountable for their time and a framework will need to be provided for them to succeed in this new way of learning.

3. Teachers need to become facilitators of learning and assessment for learning. Students should be given the responsibility for assessing their own work. Consider “Do It Yourself” (DIY) Report Cards.

4. Do not give out rewards for tasks. One might argue that marks in school are irrelevant. (Joe Bower)

5. Praise effort and hard work, not intelligence.

6. Make sure the curriculum is relevant to them in some way, often this is accomplished through giving some choices as to what to learn, how to learn it and how to communicate that learning (Kohn).

7. Make kids teachers. Let them make decisions, develop rubrics, teach one another, collaborate, assess.

I would recommend this book for anyone in business or education. What does this mean for your classroom and school?

Global education

“Providing relevant and engaging global content and connections, schools can both improve scores on required standardized tests (U.S.) and give students global knowledge, skills and perspectives that will be important in the 21st century.” (Curriculum 21, Jacobs)

Connecting with classrooms across the world by collaborative writing, problem solving, debating, multi-media production and sharing, skype, wikis, blogs etc. have the potential to make global and cultural education come alive in our classrooms. We need to give our students the skills, attitudes and knowledge to compete, connect, collaborate, create and cooperate. Part of the challenge in this for classroom teachers is making the connections with teachers and classrooms on-line. Many options are available for this such as skype in schools, teachers4twitter, facebook for teachers, meetup. classroom 2.0, e-pals, takingitglobal, kiva, etc. Sites like the asiasociety.org have a myriad of options for learning and connecting with different organizations such as NASA.

In Jacobs' book, they list the global trends affecting education today. They are:

1. Economic- the rise of India, China, Brazil, Russia and others as major economic and educational players on the world scene and the connecting of the world with fiber optics and wireless communication (The World is Flat, Friedman).

2. Science and technology- global collaboration in science and technology. The best example is “innocentive” which is a site that harnesses brainpower to solve problems in science and technology. One year innocentive gave a $1 000 000 payment for the scientist working on a project on Lou Gehrig’s disease. Interestingly solvers for innocentive were more successful when they had less experience in the relevant discipline (Crowdsourcing, Howe).

3. Demographics- the increasing numbers of ethnic group immigration such as Hispanic, Asian, etc. into Europe and North America.

4. Security and citizenship- the rising importance of security and citizenship in a changing world.

5. Educational- the changing face of education due to global forces. For example, 50% of U.S. high school students study a foreign language.

Whatever the curricular topic in our classrooms, we need to ask our students to look at things globally and to connect, collaborate and compete.

Why people are resistant to change?

People can find change difficult. I believe that often the main reason that they find it difficult is that they see no compelling reason to change or don’t clearly see the consequences of not changing (awareness). This is clearly backed up in change management literature such as the ADKAR model and many others. I found four great quotes by Karl Weik in the book “Transforming School Culture”, (Muhammad). I thought they were very pertinent to change leaders.

1. “People persist when they are given no clear reason to change.”

2. “People persist when they don’t trust the person who tells them to change.”

3. “People may keep their tools in a frightening situation because an unfamiliar situation is more frightening.”

4. “People may refuse to change because change may mean admitting failure.”

Mohammad gives a chilling example of forest fire fighters who were going to be trapped in a fire that was advancing on them rapidly. A colleague who was not their leader ran to them and told them to "drop their tools and run” to save their lives. They did not and several of them perished in the fire.

What does this mean for schools trying to change from a method of learning established in the 18th century (Jacobs, Curriculum 21) to a more transformative approach to learning available in the 21st century? Briefly, I think it means this:

1. give people the reasons to change, show them the consequences of inaction, show them what the benefits of change will be, back it with research and data

2. change leaders need to be knowledgeable, empowering, supportive, patient, single-minded, trusted and respected by employees and in it for the long haul

3. teachers need to be given the proper tools and training, including methods of assessment to improve instruction

4. all stakeholders need to be aware of the change and aware of the difficultly and growing pains inherent in any change

5. if possible, empower educational stakeholders to own the change

In my opinion, we are not admitting failure if we change, we may not even fail if we do not reach our goal, we will only fail if we fail to try to be 21st century schools.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Curriculum 21: new program structures

I am currently immersed in the book Curriculum 21, edited by Helen Hayes Jacobs. We were given it by our principal to read over the summer. I love that about our school! Not only do I love it that we are expected to be learners but I am thrilled to see that it is becoming an expectation in our school that we become a 21st century school. We are coupling this summer’s PD reading with a professional learning inservice in the fall and continuing PD throughout the year. We will have professional learning communities instead of staff meetings (always nice to dream!) and we will share our learning with each other. A bit like Fedex days at Google?! There will be on-going support for our teachers provided by our in school technology PLC and downtown consultants. Sounds great? Sure does.

Problem is that there is much research that says unless we make sweeping changes to existing program structures, we are about to fail. Even if we mean to follow the steps of the change management model ADKAR (awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement), we may be doomed to failure. One author suggests (Christensen, Disrupting Class)that the only way we will become a 21st century school and use technology effectively is to separate from conventional schools or form a charter school.

In the first chapter of Curriculum 21, Jacobs clearly states what we need to do is not to renewal schools. We need to find new ways to do school! In addition, she says that we should not describe this important process as change, we should describe it as growth instead. I personally like the word transformative. Jacobs says change is seen by too many stakeholders as temporary, as trendy and superficial. Most importantly, she states that there are four important program structures of traditional schools that affect student and curricular success. Anyone who has worked in a school or gone to a school (think about that!) should know about the current restrictive program structures of most of today’s schools. They are:

1. the schedule (both short and long term)
2. the way we group our learners
3. personnel allocations
4. use of space (both physical and virtual)

She argues that (paraphrasing) the existing structures are dated, inhibiting, even negative. There is currently a kind of entrenched monotony that is being supported by our existing structures. The actual design of the physical space of schools limits the types of learning experiences that students can have as well as how frequently teachers will have the opportunity to interact with one another. She says that multi-aged groups, accompanied by thoughtfully grouped personnel for our young learners, have proven to be especially effective, yet we isolate teachers in separate classrooms. School structures need to match the times in which we live. Form should support function and not the other way around. We have 1930’s schedules, grouping patterns and spaces, and so the curriculum follows. And now, more than ever, we have new forms to work with that do not seem to be breaking into and replacing these existing structures.

What does this mean for the structure of my classroom? I have not perfected my classroom just yet, so I don’t have a definitive list. I know I need to schedule time differently. No more ½ hour writing, then a new teacher coming in to teach art for ½ hour. There could be specialist teachers assisting with integrated inquiry work instead of teaching separate subjects. There need to be longer periods for more creative work, more out-of-school learning, more grouping of students according to interests, movement between classrooms for teachers and students, using the computer to extend learning outside our walls, developing personal learning communities on line, critical thinking and differentiated learning….and so many more! Much of this will take a collaborative effort by stakeholders at our school.

Do you agree with Jacobs’ assessment? What do these words mean for your classroom, your building and your concept of what school should be? Our staff will meet in the fall and begin the journey together as a school community. My dream is that my vision will be expanded and improved by our school community and our students will benefit as we move closer to our goal of evolving out of the past, away from a broken model of school and of learning.

I have been learning about 21st century classrooms for a long time. I am sometimes discouraged by the challenges of change, even just in my own room. Jacobs is the first author that puts into words some of the real obstacles schools face. Without addressing these archaic program structures we cannot fully embrace the principles of 21st century education. The down side of inaction is too scary to ponder. Let’s do it together and soon!

Creative Communication

I came across this poem by posted on Joe Bower's blog. For a long time now I have been preaching to everyone who would listen that creativity was a new skill or competency in 21st century schools. It seems strange to tell a great traditional teacher that the internet allows greater opportunity to create. I feel like I need to explain why this is to them and to justify it to myself as well. The fact that you are reading this blog is testament to the fact that I am creating and loving it! Anyone can create and publish for the world to see. Does it matter that no one views or reads it? I get such a rush of fun and feel empowered by the process of blog writing.

Of course, for me, the basis of it is learning. I have to learn something to create something. The internet age allows me to learn about any topic and then add my slant on things. Kind of an intellectual mash-up, building on existing knowledge or creativity, even if it it miniscule (or even meaningless) at times.

I love Mali's poem as it illustrates one of the many ways the internet has allowed people to communicate their ideas. The content of the poem is a wonderful commentary on the modern idiosyncrasy's of the English language. Shakespeare may roll over in his grave, I think it's funny.

Matiri Report on Technology in Classrooms

I was reading one of Wendy James' blog post from the ITSE conference recently. It was on a session by Cheryl Lemke of the Metiri Group. It appears that one of, if not their main function is to perform assessments for organizations as to how well they are using technology. It is entitled, "Technology in Schools, what the research says". I was fascinated to see the results as our school has just made decisions as to what technology to purchase for the upcoming year. You can look at the full text of the report in the link above, here a summary of what I read.

Interactive whiteboards

To date, the impact of interactive whiteboards on academic achievement has been mixed. Some studies have shown increased achievements using IWB's while others have shown no effect. Others have shown increased achievement to be short-lived. One study resulted in Native American students improving geometry scores with whiteboard instruction. While some studies have shown improved student engagement, it is not known if IWB's improved higher order thinking. Teaching with a IWB may result in more creative teaching but may still remain teacher-centered unless student-centered use is implemented.


The use of "clickers" in the classroom may or may not improve learning, depending on how they are used. Clickers can be used for:

-checking for student understanding of the content being taught in real time
-diagnosing student misconceptions and misunderstanding
-displaying the responses of the group to trigger discussion and reflection
-gathering formative data to guide instruction
-saving time in the administration and scoring of quizzes

Studies have shown that they can have a positive influence on increased participation, student engagement and achievement on tests (factual and open-ended) if used regularly in class. The research seems to say that if used creatively and regularly they can influence student achievement.

Video Games

"Educators who use gaming with their students typically target the development of complex thinking skills and problem solving, planning, and self-regulated learning. The descriptive research in this area shows promising results, with most researchers commenting on the complexity of gaming, and the difficulty of distinguishing which attributes of the games were responsible for the outcomes in their studies. They also discuss the difficulty of using this type of educational game in schools due to the time restrictions of class periods, the need for continuous scaffolding to guide students’ learning, and the need for more constructivist, inquiry instructional strategies that are often not familiar to teachers".

Studies have shown increased achievement in geography, math and can improve student engagement. Video games have the potential to set the pace and timing of learning, teach map skills, experience various perspectives, practice systems thinking and strategic planning, engage in risk taking, collaborate, negotiate and make decisions.

"Many researchers suggest that the value of gaming to education will depend on a transformation of schools into systems that are more student-centered, adaptive to each students’ needs and measured as to metrics related to 21st Century skills, beyond just academics. This new body of work calls for more nuanced studies that identify which gaming attribute contributes to which student outcomes".


"Researchers found that the use of interactive simulations and games resulted in higher cognitive gains when compared to traditional instruction. Further analysis indicated that a key factor in such gains was student control; when the teacher or the computer dictated the sequence of the programs, no advantage was found." Without scaffolding, students may play the simulations over and over without recognizing the educational concepts involved in the game. Two games were mentioned in the report, "civilization" and "supercharged". Both resulted in improved student learning.


The literature indicates that modeling provides opportunities for students to:

  • improve their understanding of the natural world

  • design their own representation of natural phenomenon

  • discuss elements of natural phenomenon unbiased by the complexity of the real-world

  • reflect on their own thinking

Modelling has been found to be effective in creating a link between student understanding and scientific principles.

Augmented Reality

"Augmented reality (AR) experiences involve individuals or teams interacting in the real world while simultaneously using images, text, visuals, and/or global satellite positioning that have been mapped to their real world situation". Studies of AR learning have been done in Madison, Wisconsin (community) , Lithuania (digestive system) and the Netherlands (history) and have shown that AR can improve learning.

Virtual Worlds

"Virtual Worlds are immersive 3-D environments in which users are visually represented by avatars. The users, through their avatars, visually interact and communicate via chat, and are able to “act” upon their world as they move, learn, communicate, build objects, and interact socially within that environment." Researchers report that it is unclear as to whether or not improved learning is due to the 3-D environment or the instructionla strategy.

Mobile devices

"Over the past decade, mobile devices (phones) have transformed radically. These devices, which include tools such as cell phones, media players, and gaming platforms, have witnessed a rapid increase in power and functionality accompanied by an equally significant decrease in size and price. As a result, mobile learning has grown from a minor research interest to a focus of numerous projects worldwide. Overall, the research suggests that using handheld devices can considerably enhance student learning".

1:1 Computers

"1:1 computing refers to situations where each student and teacher has access to the use of a
personal laptop computer, typically with wireless access. In some cases, laptops are checked out to students for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7). In other cases, students may be restricted to in school only use, where laptops are checked out to individual students, but recharged at night in a cart; or students may have periodic access to a laptop from sets of computers on rolling carts
". 1:1 computing can result in increased engagement, improved technology skills of students and teachers, increased amount of writing and improved writing skills.

The study goes on to say that "there is little evidence of the effectiveness of large-scale laptop programs in most learning domains. Successful laptop programs must be part of balanced, comprehensive initiatives that focus on education goals, curricula, teacher professional development, and student assessment practices. A laptop program can contribute to achieving larger education reform goals. At the same time, providing teachers and students with laptops, in isolation, is not likely to be a sufficiently strong intervention to change patterns of teaching and learning significantly for the better".

Virtual Learning

"Virtual learning refers to a learning process where the teacher, trainer, facilitator and learners are geographically distant from each other. Learners are not together in a real or actual learning venue such as a class, but in a virtual learning environment made possible by the use of various
technological tools. The types of virtual learning range from supplementary to comprehensive, from synchronous to asynchronous, from audio to web-based or video-conferenced, as well as innovative hybrids thereof
". Virtual learning studies have shown that gains are more due to who is doing the learning, who is guiding the learning and the depth of learning as opposed to the style (virtual).

In all that, it occurs to me that whatever technology you use in your classroom, the message is more important than the medium. For me, if used effectively, technology provides it's greatest advantages in their ability to:

  1. improve student engagement,

  2. provide opportunities for differentiated instruction, and

  3. act as a platform to teach critical thinking skills
How are you using technology effectively in your school division and your school?

ADKAR Change Management

As you can see from my blog entries so far, I am interested in learning and writing about “educational change management”. I believe that our classrooms need to change to meet the needs of 21st century learners. The bigger idea here is how change takes place within an organization. All organizations need to understand change management to survive and to produce the best product possible. In the case of schools this arguably would translate into producing the most capable learners as the primary objective. How can we manage change to produce the most capable and excellent 21st century schools and learners?

The book “ADKAR, A Model for Change in Business, Government and the Community” outlines the ADKAR principles of change management. It has great information and I am looking forward to attending the certification seminar in August at Banff, Alberta. ADKAR is an acronym that stands for awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. I will be writing more about the change management process and also how it relates to educational change. An overview of the steps (taken directly from the book) looks like this:

1. Awareness- represents a person’s understanding of the nature of change, why the change is being made and what the risk is of not changing. Awareness also includes information about the external and internal drivers that created the need for change, as well as “what’s in it for me?”
2. Desire- represents the willingness to support and engage in a change. Desire is ultimately about personal choice, influenced by the nature of the change.
3. Knowledge- represents the information, training and education necessary to know how to change. Knowledge includes information about behaviours, processes, tools, systems, skills, job roles and techniques that are needed to implement a change.
4. Ability- represents the realization or execution of the change. Ability is turning knowledge into action. Ability is when a person or a group has the demonstrated capability to implement the change at the required performance levels.
5. Reinforcement- represents those external and internal factors that sustain a change. External reinforcements could include recognition, rewards and celebrations that are tied to a realization of a change. Internal reinforcements could be a person’s internal satisfaction with his or her achievement or other benefits derived from the change on a personal level.

Of course, there are other models of change management ("Change Leadership", Wagner and Kegan, "Transforming School Culture", Muhammud, "The Heart of Change Field Guide", Cohen). The ADKAR model is particularly interesting in it's simplicity and the research that backs it up as reported in the book and on-line. Regardless of the model, I am looking forward to being a facilitator of change in my school, my school division and all schools. I will write more about the ADKAR model of change management and my experience with it in my school and my school division. What are you doing to promote change in your classroom, your school and your division?

Monday, July 5, 2010

From Cathedral to Bazaar: My Classroom 2010/11

Wordle: tc

“The real problem is not adding technology to the classroom, but changing the culture of teaching and learning,”….”so that students are empowered to take more responsibility for making important contributions to their own learning and to their learning community”,
Allan November.

As I am bombarded with information about 21st century learning from so many different sources that it makes one’s head spin, I am more and more certain that what each of us needs to do is:

1. Change how students learn and assess learning in my classroom, and
2. Change the outdated program structures of school affecting learning (time, grouping of students, allocation of staff and use of space) Jacobs, Curriculum 21

I have just written a post on outdated program structures. This is a very exciting time of year for me. Anything is possible for my school and my classroom in the summer! I have time to assess and reflect as to how I am doing in my classroom. It is exciting to imagine how my new classroom structure will empower students to be 21st century learners. Am I providing the 21st century learning environment that I read and write about all the time? Every year I try to improve my classroom and every year I have both resounding success and disheartening discouragement.

What are the main principles and underlying structures that will enable me to continue to improve what I offer? They are listed below:

1. Blogging- through blogging, students in our classroom will:

a. become an expert on a topic of their choice
b. develop an on-line learning community to achieve the above
c. develop an on-line presence/record of learning
d. own their work and not have to get approval to post blogs

2. Inquiry based projects- curricula will be addressed through project based learning, where students will:

a. complete projects based on critical thinking, not solely research
b. complete individual projects with an emphasis on one of the following:

i. global perspectives
ii. career connections
iii. local perspectives
iv. social action
v. second language acquisition
vi. experiential/hands-on learning
vii. mathematics
viii) sustainability

c. complete projects based on their interests and abilities (connectivist)
d. assess their own work
e. communicate their learning in a variety of creative ways using multi-media tools and traditional methods

3. Changing classroom structure-

a. time scheduling- longer periods of time for students to get deeper into projects and writing
b. more flexibility as to how students use class time
c. more grouping of students based on interests
d. using staff as consultants on integrated project work
e. more out-of-school learning, directed by teacher and students

4. Connect and collaborate with other cultures

a. Wikis, google docs
b. Skype

5. Invest in Kiva as a class

6. Weekly learning journals

a. Students use metacognition to describe how and what they learn

7. Collaborative writing projects out of school

Sound like a lot? I have been doing this for many years now. I started by taking just one step and assessing it's success. As I have said, having goals is one thing, achieving them is yet another. Wish me luck!

Augmented Reality is Coming!

Check this out! Are we preparing our students for the future? How do we prepare them?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Are You Teaching Connective Writing?

The other day I was getting groceries at the corner store and a younger balding man came up to me and said, "Hello Mr. Comfort!" He stood there and looked back at me while I squirmed to figure out who he was. Turns out I taught him 28 years ago in the small town of Wakaw, Saskatchewan. We had a very nice conversation and amazingly I remembered him quite well. He was a quiet young man in grade 7 or 8 then who rarely spoke his mind. He now works for immigration Canada and handles difficult situations routinely.

He and I enjoyed our conversation thoroughly and before he said goodbye he told me I was a great teacher. Of course he was young and impressionable when he was in grade 7 and is now old enough to be experiencing significant memory loss. He certainly was kind to say what he did. It reminded me of how I feel every time I meet a former student. Did I do the best job I could? Did I provide experiences that would prepare him for his future? Do my present students feel like I am a good teacher and preparing them for the future?

In particular, I am concerned about how we teach kids to read and write in today's world. Surely writing and reading has evolved. I have been reading quite a bit about the use of links in reading and writing. Will Richardson calls this connective writing and reading. I looked it up in wikipedia and there is no entry for either concept. Since I read his blog and heard him speak at the IT Summit this spring, I have been very eager to develop activities in my classroom that teach these important 21st century skills.

Turns out that others are talking about using links in writing and reading. The Harvard School of Journalism has been debating about whether or not journalists should use links in their writing or not. In this article they argue that:

  1. Links are good for storytelling. Links give journalists a way to tell complex stories concisely.

  2. Links keep the audience informed.

  3. Links are a currency of collaboration.

  4. Links enable transparency.

I love to read writing that is full of links. They entice me to do more thorough research as they provide more detailed information, often from the original source. Links are often definitions important to the understanding of the concept being discussed. Readers less familiar with the material can choose to look at the background material. Links can provide a chronological perspective with references to previous material. They can lead to photos, graphics or video which enhance the point being made by the author. Links can allow the writer to concentrate on making a convincing main argument or point and supporting material can easily be viewed if the reader so chooses.

"Connective writing" gives the reader choices as to the depth and direction they wish to take their reading and thinking. One might argue that links can increase the depth and detail of writing as well.

"Connective reading" is surely not the same as "conventional reading". Do all of our students know how to navigate through linked writing to derive meaning? I don't think we can just assume that because they are immersed in a world of links that they know how to do it well. I also think that educators need to learn about connective reading and writing themselves.

Connective writing has changed the face of "journalism proper" (Globe and Mail, Indiana School of Journalism) and "journalism 2.0" (blogging). I agree with Will Richardson. I think 21st century teachers need to consider how they teach connective reading and writing in our classrooms. Last year (sadly) I did not teach students in my class to connective read and write. I believe that I cannot be a 21st century teacher if I don't address this. Next year I will. Will you? How will you do it? Leave me a comment.