Monthly Archives: November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

To all of you who have read and shared your thoughts here, thank you! I hope you have a safe and refreshing Thanksgiving. I am grateful for all of you.

Using Their Voices

I decided to try a new strategy for helping my class learn to effectively develop an idea for writing in a paragraph. This is always an ongoing challenge when teaching history, identifying the main idea for the argument and then supporting it with evidence. When the students can come up with an idea, they often struggle with how to prove it, or when they find lots of facts,  it is a challenge to organize them effectively. I know that I often do some of my best thinking when I am talking with other people, so I developed a lesson to let the students see if talking and listening to themselves would help them organize and articulate their thoughts.

They first read a section of the textbook individually and then again in small groups, identifying together the most important facts. I regularly have them read a section twice: first to identify the main ideas and then a second time to annotate what is significant in the passage. To start the next part of this assignment, I posed a question to them and had them brainstorm from the facts that they knew. Some of them did it on paper and some of them used different programs on their laptops to make mind maps.

I gave them 10 minutes to look over what they had read and the work they had done the day before. Then I gave them this challenge. Using Garageband, they were to record their planning process, identifying which facts they wanted to include and what order they wanted to use them. Then they were to listen to the recording. They were then to repeat the process, only this time with the focus being on developing a topic sentence for the paragraph, one that clearly stated their argument. After they had tried a few sentences, they were to listen again. Then the goal was to record a paragraph that answered the question. After doing that, they were listening to see if they had a clear point of view and had proved their point with evidence.

At first, they were really worried, assuming that this was about creating a finished product that would be graded and, even worse, listened to by the class. When I told them that this was just for them, they became curious but still sort of doubtful. One girl was almost frozen due to her embarrassment at “talking to herself.”  When I explained that the goal was to use their laptops in a new way to develop their thinking, and most importantly that no one was going to hear their recordings but them, they began to loosen up and enjoy the process. As they started to experience it as a different means of identifying what they wanted to say, they got really excited. There was no “product,” except their deeper understanding of the material and of how to put together an effective answer to the question.

For some of them, it was a huge success. They felt like they had really been able to more their thinking forward over the course of the hour that they had to work in this way. They wanted to do it any time that they had to write. For others, they hated it and felt that it didn’t help at all. For both of those groups and the ones in between, it was a learning experience, which was exactly what I wanted.


Why We Go to Conferences

I just got done with a whirlwind visit to Toronto to attend and present at ECOO – Educational Computing Organization of Ontario. It was a wonderfully run conference, with nary a hitch as far as this attendee could tell. The planning and communication ahead of time and the support team in place yesterday and today made it a great experience. If you can get a chance in the future, I would recommend attending.

One of the things that the time brought home to me is that while online tools are great for connecting educators from around the world, there is nothing like face-to-face time. There is a wonderful energy that comes from being across the table from a person, whether someone you follow on Twitter or not, and talking about topics about which we are all passionate. There is a deep kind of connection that comes when I meet someone that I had followed on Twitter for awhile. These are people whose ideas I know, but with whom I have never shared a cup of coffee. Having the time to share a meal is wonderful. Friendships are quickly born on the solid foundation of trust that has been built up over time on Twitter.

My one funny, and slightly embarrassing, Connecting with my PLN story came when I met someone that I had been following for over a year. I feel very connected to this person, know his ideas and definitely consider him part of my PLN. I pay attention to his tweets when I see them. I ended up sitting at a table with him and a few others. Shortly after the session started, he tweeted that he was sitting with the others but didn’t include me. I made a silly joke about being left out. What became immediately clear was that while I “knew him well,” in Twitter terms, he didn’t “know” me. He did not follow me and had no idea who I was. Truly, there was no reason for him to know me! Like many of the people who follow me, that I do not follow back so that my PLN doesn’t become unruly, he had not made a connection with me. I was outside those he followed.

It was one of those interesting, global connections/disconnections moments. Twitter creates a sense of community that sometimes needs to be tested. It is a great place to meet and begin the connections, but it is really just the starting place. If we want to have a rich, community life, we need to do those next steps – reading and commenting on each other’s blogs, attending online and face-to-face conferences, taking the time to move beyond the more superficial relationships and develop deeper ones.

That is why times like ECOO are so important. We need to make the time and save the money to attend them and to drag along as many colleagues as possible. In places like ECOO, it is possible to learn about global connections and digital tools in a familiar setting that seems to draw many more people into making deeper connections. We can also deepen all of the relationships that get started in other ways.


Willing to be Transformed

One of the ongoing challenges for teachers in the 21st century is to be willing to change and grow. The world of education is evolving every day. There are always new tools to help students learn and communicate their ideas. There are new avenues for collaboration and understanding. There are new discoveries about the brain and how to best support students. As teachers, we need to be learning and changing ourselves, as educators, so that we can facilite the learning that our students need to do.

Yesterday, Chris Lehman, the principal of Science Leadership Academy, came to lead our in-service today. (Follow Chris on Twitter, if you don’t already!) Chris spoke about how we can not expect our students to be transformed in our classes if we are not willing to be transformed ourselves. We have to be part of the transformation that we want to take place in our schools and in our students. We must be willing to grow and change if we want to create an environment where students feel safe enough to come along on the journey. When I live the challenges of being a learner, then I am able to create a creative and a safe environment within which students can learn. When I move beyond being the “expert” in the room and take on the role of inquirer, then transformation can happen for me and for my students.

I know that I am a better teacher when I am learning. In those times, I am out of my depth. There are issues that I do not understand or tools that I can not figure out. I am confused, and I have to struggle to understand. The experience of not knowing, of being lost, is critical for good educators. We place students in that situation all of the time. We need to remember what it is like, rather than simply enjoy the comfort of our previous learning and successes. When we learn and grow, we can support the learning and growth of our students.

I have learned so much from the teachers that I interact with online. They provide me with new ideas and new challenges. They support me when I am confused and offer advice to help me find my way through. When I allow myself to be too busy to learn and grow with them, then my students suffer. We are all busy, but there are choices that have to be made if we want to maintain in a place of transformation. We need to make the commitment to daily growth. When we do that, our students benefit. Our learning and inquiry leads to our being better teachers, ones who create transformational classrooms and schools.

So it is back to learning, back to the times of confusion and doubt and on to transformation!