Archive for the 'Stuff I love' Category

Lessons learned from my Twitter activity in the past few months

I’m sure some sage individual in the past has noticed that humans are most excellent at making order out of chaos as well as vice versa.  For most people who first encounter Twitter, when they hear that it’s just about people barking statements in less than 140 characters about the goings on in their lives, they immediately decide that the tool amounts to nothing but horsefeathers and mindless chatter.  A little over two years ago I too was skeptical about using Twitter. Now I have a great appreciation of what a powerful tool it is for connecting with people who are interested in the same things you are. More than that it’s a great way to learn from others and find people in your field to learn from.

While others may lament the 140 character limit, I believe that the limit forces you to ‘prune your words’ or carefully think out what you will share.  The medium itself is, after all, only designed for short bursts of conversation. If you want a longer discussion that’s  less constricted go find a forum on the same subject.  The great thing about Twitter is it’s a large body of information sharing, but you can still make relative sense of it by using the search or accessing what YOU want to hear or learn about by using the hashtags (examples: #baseball, #knitting, #instructionaldesign). You don’t have to dig through individual communities and forums to find what people are saying about a topic.

Again it’s difficult to engage in a deeper conversation from just following the hashtags, but groups can hold guided discussion by centering the Twitter exchange around a set of guiding questions which people in the group respond to individually. In the next few posts I’ll be sharing more about my own attempt to learn how to use Twitter as a tool have an ‘actual conversation’ with like minds. I’ll review the preparation &  steps needed to hold a Twitter chat, and I’ll also take some time to analyze the benefits & drawbacks of this format of conversation. Finally, I would like to take a deeper look at some of the Twitter tools out there that help both faciliators and participants.

Using twitter as a conversation tool can still pose challenges and seem restrictive, but if you leverage it’s strengths and adopt a Zen approach to absorbing with wave of content and thoughts from others, it’s actually a great window into how others feel about the topics you care about.

Schools, Please Don’t Kill Our Creativity

At a workshop I attended yesterday, Barry Dahl mentioned this unforgettable lecture by Ken Robinson at the TED conference. In his incredibly adroit and humorous talk, Robinson maintains that schools today thrash the creativity out of kids. I would argue that the final death knell takes place once they enter today’s corporate work world.

In another inspiring lecture, Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO champions the importance of play in productivity of design and innovation.

Tim Brown Teaches Adults How to Play at a Lecture

Tim Brown Teaches Adults How to Play at a Lecture

How can we, as educators promote creativity and play in our classrooms, while teaching important knowledge and skills? I feel that developing curriculum driven by “student created content” is key to developing the creative minds that will build our future. I don’t know about you, but as an old doddering woman, I would rather live in a world built by the next designer of earth shaking technologies and innovative policies that help promote progress and not in a world populated by people who are fettered by rules that squelch creativity and productivity.

“It’s in the making of things that kids actually do their learning”

(Exerpt below is from an article I wrote for our company blog.)

Creating content in schools extends past the traditional class-report or diorama making. I found this wonderful example of the King Middle School in Portland, Maine. I believe that this school is really putting the approaches to 21st Literacy Education in a Action. The video provides examples of how the school integrates subjects like science, English, math with technology education.


Click the photo to view the video. Note the video will open and play automatically in another browser window.

The kids participate in truly constructivist activities, by developing videos, artwork, and collaborating on the development of music and music scores. All of these activities and projects require formal knowledge in writing, math, science, research and history that used to be taught to students via textbooks in an isolated context. Here are a few quotes from the short film that really captured my attention:

“We don’t use textbooks, per se… we do a lot of research in class.”

“The approach is to bring out the best in every student.”

“It’s in the making of things, that kids do their learning.”

The school also partners with businesses like a local printing press to develop products. The students work together as teams to develop items such as books for the press. These students also have the opportunity to work with professionals like the professional documentary maker who help them improve the quality of their videos. They get real-life experience and are encouraged to stretch and deliver quality projects. They are not coddled or isolated from doing ‘real work’ because they are not ready to do it on a ‘professional level.’

As I finished watching the video, I realized that many teachers might have issues with the fact that some students contributed 7 pages of work to a final project while some contributed only three paragraphs. I like the attitude that these teachers at King have that “Everyone does what they can.” Plus everyone should contribute to the project using the skills and talents that they have. Perhaps a student who needs help with math but has kinesthetic talents can choreograph a dance, and teach the other students how to perform the dance to be included in a final project. A student who lags in writing but has design skills might lead the team that develops the costumes or set. Both students are exercising their communication and leadership skills in helping other get their tasks done. Students who are better at writing can help coach these students when they have to do the written component for the project.

I think the comment that sums up the value and power of this approach to education was made by the kids of King Middle School themselves, “No one feels stupid here anymore.”

Why wasn’t I born twenty years later? I would have loved to go to school in a place like this. Seeing examples like this really makes me excited about the work we do here at PLS because I believe that in what we do we strive to make learning experiences effective and powerful.

Wikis: it’s okay to make mistakes here

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article "Minds on Fire"

More and more, I’ve come to see wikis (collaborative websites) as informal ‘playgrounds’ where people can share, learn and collaborate together. I’m not really referring to Wikipedia, because it’s seen as a semi-formal/formal resource. Now I don’t want to get into the veracity or the level of formality associated with Wikipedia, that’s not the main focus of my thoughts here.

I’m talking about wikis as an active place for a ‘learning community’ to share, build and collaborate to learn information. An example of this is a wiki set up by a classroom teacher of any subject where students (and the teacher) can build their store of knowledge on a subject together. Note, ‘grown ups’ in the workplace can use this in a similar fashion (see the last examples). Here are a bunch of sample scenarios:

1.) History/Social Studies Class - develops a section in their wiki on each of the topics they cover in class. Teams of students are responsible for updating the wiki with information on a particular subject. Class invites another history class from a different part of the country or world to contribute to some of their pages and volunteers to contribute to the other class’s wiki in return.

2.) College Physics Course – shares information they gather on particular phenomena. Smaller teams work together on the wiki to develop papers on particular projects. The wiki is used as a place to collaborate and develop a draft.

3.) Elementary School Class – learns about punctuation. The have a page for each of the different rules of punctuation. Each student contributes to the rule page by writing their own correct example of usage.

4.) Hi-school English Class – students work to write scenes of a play that parodies the work of a featured playwright or author. For, example they create a modernized version of Hamlet.

5.)Marketing team – uses wikis as an ongoing brainstorming area for throwing out random ideas to explore.

6.)Software Development Team - uses wiki to document issues and successes with code.

In these situations, the wiki is not serving as a definitive or formal resource for information. In my opinion, people should not throw hissy fits about making little mistakes like grammatical errors or broken links. People shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, because these mistakes can always be corrected. The more knowledgable wiki-users should be able to model and teach their less-experienced co-users how to correct these mistakes. Users and participants in the wiki work with each other to share ideas and grow the content without the fear of ‘making irreversible mistakes.’ The content in the wiki is ‘organic': always changing, evolving and growing.

I have to admit, I’ve very excited about this aspect of knowledge-sharing and the idea that content grows and changes, because I firmly believe that this is where innovation, growth. But in the sense of content development, I think of Wikis as being the rehearsal for the ‘play’ that is print or documented information. Again, I also see it as a playground for learning.

Resources/More Info:

Invasion of the Video Mashup

An internet video mashup is just a re-mix of of video and audio content which is shared on the web.

Future tense has a great brief podcast on the trends of video mashups (1/3/2008). Notably it features the idea that much of the re-mix of content from films and music may eligible for ‘fair use‘ law protection. This makes sense since re-mixing content to express a new or different interpretation doesn’t mean that people are using the content as it is for ones own gain. This is a potentially touchy topic because on one hand we want people to re-mix and re-interpret content because it facillitates change and progress; on the other hand, taking and using content from those who worked hard to create it doesn’t seem right if someone else profits from it. Though I doubt that anyone has made any money re-mixing Soprano episodes.

Though I wonder how many legal departments and copyright lawyers must have their wheels running on overdrive right now trying to figure out how to nip this movement in the bud. Is it too late to do that? Large numbers of teens have made re-mixing of content to their own interpretations a way of life. This is simply how they react to the content they see. I think it’s exciting… because you can interact with this content in ways that you could not in the past.*What does this mean for copyright law in the future?

Cool Example of Student Created Content

I was really impressed by this… a Movie/reinterpretation of the events of the Boxer Rebellion in China.

I’m a fan of Hong Kong cinema and I think these guys did a pretty good mix of storytelling with the fantasy martial arts genre. I remember falling asleep during the chapter of the Boxer Rebellion in my history class way back. I think these kids actual brought more meaning to the event than any old crusty history teacher ever could. Plus, they probably learned how much work it takes to produce a short film and became more engaged with history in the process.

Check out the Gamer Rater at Kapp Notes

Rate yourself as a gamer (1.0, 2.0, 3.0 or 4.0). Presented via Karl Kapp’s blog. Click on the image below to get to the post and read more about the Game Rater. You can evaluate what level of “Gamer” you fit into regardless of your age.
This activity was developed by his students, and they did a really good job of putting an old familiar activity (assessment tool or quiz/survey) into an interactive format.

As I explored this game/interactivity, I started to realize that there are some tech tools and processes that I feel comfortable with and some that I do not. I’m getting use to accessing information via small screens, and I think that like, Josh, I feel hindered when I cannot access information online. It makes me think… there must be growing groups of people out there like Josh who will avoid ‘non-connected areas.’ I start thinking of connected people or, in this case, ‘technocrats’ as types of fish who decide to school only in ‘wireless-friendly’ areas.

Are some of us adapting our lives to technology? I guess this has happened with just about everything we’ve become used to including, cars, radios, televisions, and p.c.’s.

Lifelong learning is important for 21st century living

I found this great piece on Nethack: 15 steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

I thought that this list had some nice suggestions for keeping the passion for learning alive.

UNESCO characterizes 21st Century education as being education geared to developing  lifelong learners.  It’s no secret that these types of learners are usually the best innovators, problem solvers, etc. I suspect an indirect consequence of being a lifelong learner is that you are able to solve not only professional issues but personal ones as well. Well, at least we can only hope.

I started putting together a list of characteristics of lifelong learners. It’s not complete, but it’s a start.

Lifelong Learner Characteristics

  • Are insatiable knowledge seekers - they continually seek learning experiences or opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills
  • Are social learners – Lifelong learners learn both from and with others. The will take classes or look for social groups. They usually seek out acquaintances who are better or more knowledgeable in fields than they are
  • Don’t simply just take in information - they analyze, synthesize and or apply what they’ve learned
  • Are teachers themselves – lifelong learners usually openly share what they know because they understand that having open networks actually gives them more access to the information from others.
  • Never think of themselves as the ultimate expert in anything
Characteristics of Lifelong Learners - Click on the image to view a larger version

Characteristics of Lifelong Learners – Click on the image to view a larger version

 

I’ve got X-mas in the wash… it’s soap, baby!

I hate the fuss over Christmas.  I like giving gifts, but I don’t like the drama or hassle that comes tied in guilt and knots when it comes to holiday giving.  My solution= find a place on the internet that I’ve visited this year either on the internet or in ‘real life.’ More, I have to have absolutely loved the products I found there. Funny, everywhere I go now, if I like a store or business I always ask stores if they have a website, and if I can purchase their products online. It’s a really good way for businesses to keep tourist dollars coming even after the tourists have gone home.

marinelife.jpgWhen we were in Madison, WI this summer we went to visit the Soap Opera. I fell in love with their homemade glycerin soaps (Primal Elements Handcut Soaps). I even brought home a Pirate Soap (decorated with “Skull and Bones”) for my husband… he refuses to use it because it’s so cool looking.  I don’t mind because it actually has the most lovely scent of vanilla and marshmallows. The soaps come in such beautiful and curious designs that it’s hard to resist. I was given a sample of the “Dragonfly” soap… and after I tried it I regretted not purchasing a slice. I actually love this glycerin soap in general because it’s super mild and the essential oil blends they use on the soaps aren’t super intrusive or garish.

Also, I enjoyed reading the story of one of the owners of the shop: “How I Got from Art Major to Business Owner.”  I think it’s a wonderful story of one person’s journey through life trying to balance work and business with what one loves to do… especially if that means making ‘things.’ I believe that the booming business of crafts and handmade products is no coincidence considering the fact that we live in a growing world of virtual concepts through technology.

dragonfly.jpg skull.jpgflowrshp.jpgchocmose.jpg

Oh, oh, oh….I also found the retailer of these soaps made to imitate natural gemstones.  At the Soap Opera, I purchased the Red Jasper soapstone for my mother as a gift. But it looks like you can get the soaps here at a discounted price. Well, my Christmas Shopping is done! And I didn’t even have to push through crowds at a mall.
blackopal.jpg jasper.jpg

Playstation Eye – Seeing Educational Possibilities?

View the details here: http://blog.us.playstation.com/2007/11/14/video-of-new-research-conducted-with-playstation-eye/

So the technology is here to be able to scan drawing and input them in to a visual application… if this was improved and adapted could it be used to teach a geometry class to visualize what teachers or students were drawing? Could you theoretically teach such a class via long distances?

Just a thought.

Never mind that… the game they’re demonstrating seem pretty darn cool. Now you can draw your own spaceships or video game landscapes..or at least rough outlines of them.


ps1.jpg

Why do people ‘Hate’ math?

I was just reviewing the searches for my blog and I found that someone had typed in “Why do people hate math?”

My feeling is that perhaps people do not hate it so much as fear it or are intimidated by it. Our culture (western) is so dominated by the verbal we learn to think in words and feelings perhaps before anything else. Mathematics is simply another language for explaining and interpreting the phenomena in the world. However, it is a very straight forward and logical language that has rules, that often elude us because we are not taught these rules properly in school.

Serendipitously, I’m currently working on developing a course on teaching algebra to middle school students, both the SME (Subject Matter Expert) and myself decided that one of the biggest obstacles to really getting math, let alone algebra, is the proper development of “Number Sense.” If I could explain what number sense means to myself and the other ‘verbal’ people out there, I’d probably start by saying that Number Sense may be analogous to being able to understand the basic rules of structure in language. (Maybe, I need a better analogy. Anyone else out there want to help?) Here is a simple, simple comparison.

Word Sense: I know that a sentence must have a subject and a verb. I know that the verb tense/form must agree with the nature of the subject (I am, you are, he is, etc.)

Number Sense: (Or maybe number babbling) I know that when I add two positives together I get a positive. Conversely, I know that when I add two negatives I get a negative. When I add a negative and a positive… I’m really combining or matching the negative and positive and combining them. After you combine these pairs that each equal zero I take them away – and I’m left with the remainder of the greater number (either positive or negative). Oh, heck… just look at the picture I drew.

 

Illustration of additing pos. neg. numbers

If I were asked to explain this using pictures the first time, I think the concept would have sunk it a lot faster. I’ll bet dimes to dollars, if you were taught math more than 40 years ago all they did was simply put a set of problems in front of you. Maybe with the help (if you were lucky) of an astute teacher, they would explain what was happening in the problems or the pattern of solutions. But generally you were expected to figure it all out on your own. I didn’t learn math 40 years ago, but still, that’s how I felt it was taught. I went through the mechanics of solving the problems without really learning the rules of the language of mathematics.

Since, I didn’t understand the rules I could really only solve the simplest level problems in algebra. I sort of got the concepts, but as I moved into advanced algebra and calculus I’d often get lost. I was the “Queen of Partial Credit” on quizzes and tests. In the end in Calculus I barely scraped by with a C-. I could blame adolescent hormonal binges I was experiencing at the time, but looking back, I think that if I really sat down with the teachers and tried to understand math (from my own terms) I might have been able to do much better. I don’t think I really found the language of mathematics meaningful until I started applying it to my work in the form of ratios and proportions. Hexidecimal values and understanding the concepts of arrays and tables. But isn’t that the challenge that most teachers face, we must really coax the understanding and application of knowledge from our students regardless of who they are.

When I was actually teaching in the classroom, I really tried to understand how my students were perceiving a concept or what their general understanding or lack of understanding was. I really did try with certain complex subjects to relay the information to them in various ways or even ask them to explain why they thought they didn’t understand something. This morning at breakfast, my husband and I were talking about the difficulties of designing really good instruction. He puzzled about why it is so hard to teach… it doesn’t seem that hard, he said. More, it shouldn’t be hard to capture all that needs to be taught in writing. Yes, I explained, it’s easy to capture content int he form of raw concepts and information, but it’s the getting the student to understand and apply these things that is the hardest part. You can teach any monkey* to take a test, but getting people to make something with what they learn… that’s another challenge. I explained that teaching is an art that require not just book smarts and knowledge… it requires heart and the ability to read people and adjust your teaching to their needs.

*My apologies to all monkeys out there.


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