Make a Habit of Educational Purposes

Social Media Garden by j&tplaman

When I see teachers using online media resources, I think of three-year-olds playing together. First, everyone is happy, looking around, exploring the boundaries, and loving each other’s toys. As soon as everyone gets comfortable, the limits are pushed – one kid decides all toys are his and the rest of the team should be quiet about it. Another kid slaps the leader, the rest disagree, and the fight begins. At this point, it becomes too complicated to figure out whose fault it was to begin with. A similar series of events happens when teachers access, use, and share media resources online. They begin to explore and enjoy resources developed by others. They admire some creations and ignore others. Finally, they find the one and want to use it in their work. It seems to perfectly fit into their blog post, digital story, online presentation, or website. They decide it’s theirs to use and want everyone (authors included) to be hunky-dory about it. All of a sudden, one person legally points out the injustice, and the mess begins.

In our school, many teachers (myself included) use videos, images, or songs in teaching and building online courses in itsLearning. Not many, however, cite the resources or give credit to their creators. I have seen an abundance of student projects with images that have copyright watermarks on them. Nevertheless, teachers celebrate the achievement by posting these projects online. It breaks my instructional technology specialist’s heart to watch students developing abusive habits for consuming online resources. We must start modeling and teaching students about public domains, Creative Commons, and how the rules apply to their everyday projects and online interactions.

In my opinion, Flickr can be an easy place to start teaching visual literacy to students. I have not been a member or active user of Flickr community simply because it was blocked on our network. Taking some time exploring the possibilities of Flickr has helped me view this resource in a very different light. I am impressed with the elementary school lesson ideas posted within the community and available ideas for integrating images across the curriculum. I find the annotation tool a great mechanism that can be used to enhance lessons in all grade levels. Flickr is truly a place “where the contributors interact and share and learn from each other in creative and interesting ways” (Richardson, 2010, p.102).

Modeling respect for work of others should be a part of every learning environment. Teaching how to treasure creations of others will change students’ perception of their own work. Kids need to learn that their creations are valuable contributions protected by the copyright law. They will view real people as their audience to whom they may choose to grant a permission to use, copy, or share their work. Students need to learn that the digital world alters daily, therefore, everything they see online today may be different tomorrow. Authors who give permissions to copy and share their work under Creative Commons may change their minds. They may take that right away without announcing their decision which makes it a potential negative for using Creative Commons resources. For that reason, it should not be the information we neglect to teach. Using digital media online should not be the area of education where we cut corners and save time by copying and pasting anything we see. Teachers must understand that hiding behind the “for educational purposes” blanket is not good enough for raising digital citizens of tomorrow.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

It’s All About Learning

Successful teaching of an objective requires two things: a deep understanding of the content and the ability to choose the most effective strategy to deliver it. Today, teachers are challenged to address twenty-first century skills and prepare students for the future, but unfortunately, not many succeed in doing so. If we ask teachers to define or list twenty-first century skills, how many will struggle with the task? And those who are able to name them, most likely, will scramble with deep explanations and specific examples of what each looks like in a classroom. Even if teachers know and clearly understand what these skills are, how many of them are successful in choosing effective strategies to teach them? Such methods were not introduced in their college pedagogy classes. Certainly, they did not experience this type of learning when they were in school and, most likely, did not observe it during their internship. I cannot agree more with Will Richardson (2010) that teachers “cannot honestly discuss twenty-first century learning skills for our students until we [teachers] make sense of them for ourselves” (p. x). 

Teachers must initiate personal professional development in order to be able to serve students of today. They need to connect with other educators, investigate new possibilities and ideas, try them out, reflect, and do whatever it takes to polish the craft of teaching. Technology is the tool that allows teachers to develop personal learning network full of learners invested in their passion. From blogs to Twitter, online communities are buzzing with new ideas and strategies for educators. The only obstacle teachers encounter is themselves! It is not mandatory to be a part of an online learning community, but it is a sign of a passionate educator who walks the talk of 21-century schooling, experiences new ways of learning, and does so along with students. Before they can educate, teachers must experience what it feels like to be a part of a learning community in which people share ideas, provide specific feedback to improve own work, collaborate, and create content that matters to others. For instance, most teachers allow student to publish their work online, but not many realize that the real learning takes place after the publishing. Richardson (2010) calls it the real power of “The Read/Write Web.” Through communication and collaboration with others, a published piece continues to be a “working draft.” It is revised, reflected on, and questioned by multiple readers. With real audience, student are invested in their work and want to continuously clarify own thinking and revise writing. Learning is not about product, it’s about the process: engaging, collaborative, challenging, and relevant. 

Submerging in the world of instructional technology while working on my Master’s six years ago enable me to learn more about Web 2.0 tools and develop powerful strategies to implement them. I fell in love with wikis, Voice Thread, Wixie, Storybird, Voki, and many other tools. They helped me turn my class into a “buzzing” community of students who began work harder than I did. Collaboration and communication gradually replaced lectures and flipchart presentations, and I watched my students’ creativity and individualities bloom. Of course, it was not a smooth transition for me! I made many mistakes, changed lesson plans every few hours, listened to my students, assessed their progress, and continuously researched. Even the physical appearance of my classroom changed: round tables and clusters of seating areas supplanted the rows of desks and “teacher’s area.” It was a painful growth for me, and I could not have done it without connecting with educators passionate about the same things. Because of them, I was brave enough to “tap into the potential that these [Web2.0] tools give us for learning” (Richardson, p. 9). 

This year our district is integrating itsLearning, a new online learning platform. From the start, I want my teachers to view this tool as a place for students, not teachers. Teachers need to avoid uploading files and study guides with answer keys for kids to print out because an online learning environment should not be a static place! I encourage them to let students take control of learning, collaborate, engage, and communicate with each other. Teachers should become facilitators and co-learners instead of being gatekeepers of the content. Every imaginable Web 2.0 tool can be easily integrated in each course to help students connect with peers and professionals around the world. And more than anything I want teachers to be practice weaving strong pedagogy into “The Read/Write Web.”

References:
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Why PBL?

This year, I’m leading a group of teachers in our school who want to learn about project-based learning. I thought my goal was simple – to familarize teachers with the fundomentals of PBL and to help them develop and implement first projects. During our first meeting, however, I discovered my biggest challenge. No teacher would give it a try unless I demonstrated clear connections bewtween PBL  and best teaching practices. I had to demolish the myth about PBL being something we don’t have time for in a classroom, a belief that is well fed on the pressure to cover all standards on time. I wanted to prove that PBL would cover and uncover standards in a timely manner and allow studetns to experience their depth in an engaging and relevant way.

Since most of our staff  read the book, I decided to build my case on  “Focus” by Mike Schmoker. I needed to connect the three essentials described by the author with the three pillars of PBL. According to Schmoker, the three elements of effective teaching are:

  • What We Teach – a coherent curriculum with “power standards”
  • How We Teach – all students must learn each segment of each lesson before moving on to the next one; scaffolding and differentiation
  • Authentic Literacy – purposeful, usually argumentative, reading, writing, and talking (Schmoker, 2011)

Critical thinking, collaboration, and communication in PBL are perfectly parallel with Schmoker’s teaching essentials. PBL may be a different way of teaching, but it is effective in every way. It creates classrooms full of deep thinkers and independent learners.  Finding such connections helped me win teachers over. They took a risk and  stepped forward with a very much doable approach – PBL.

This is the prezi presentation I used with my group to discuss connections between the essentials described by Schmoker and PBL. I thank all my colleagues for the wonderful discussion we had!