Sunday, August 31, 2008

Learning Without Teachers

What will happen if you place a single computer workstation with free access to the World Wide Web in a wall so that 'unschooled' children can access it?

In the "Hole-in-the-Wall" project, Sugata Mitra discovered that kids in Delhi, India could and would teach themselves how to use such a tool. No instructions, no teachers, no supervision. The experiment has since been repeated many times and now Sugata Mitra's LIFT talk is available via TED...

In some ways, this self-teaching reminds me of Greg Mortenson stumbling upon students carrying on with their lessons absent of teachers in remote Pakistan. Greg's chronicle of his mission to build schools for these students is chronicled in "Three Cups of Tea".

This peer-teaching and self-learning isn't what you might expect to find when teachers leave their North American classrooms... I wonder why that is?

Friday, August 29, 2008

To Caddy? or To Attend Class?

A few days ago, I had the good fortune of reconnecting with a northern colleague, Mike, who invited me for a round of golf at the Sault Golf and Country Club, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. During our twilight round, we had a number of conversations revolving around family, work, and recreation, but the one that sticks in my head, is the brief chat we had on the 7th green.

Since the round was unplanned, I played my round with the clubs of Mike's 11 year old son, Adam. While it took me a few holes to adapt to these novice tools, it was in talking about Adam that I learned he had been invited to caddy for the Canadian Men’s Senior Golf Championship taking place in the Sault from September 9th - 12th.

It turns out, that the current debate in Mike's household was whether or not Adam should be allowed to miss school for the Thursday and Friday of the tournament. With the tide leaning heavily towards school, I couldn't resist playing the devil's advocate...

"If Adam attends school, how long will the experiences of those two days stick with him?"

"If Adam attends the golf tournament, how long with the experiences of those two days stick with him?"

Even though I've never caddied for another golfer, by the barometer of memory; lasting impact; and influence on future pursuits, there is little doubt in my mind, that caddying for one or more senior golfers will provide the richer experience.

So here is my challenge to you upon the start of a new school year... "What are you doing in your classroom today, that is more important, more meaningful and more relevant for personal growth, than the act of caddying in a golf tournament?"

Photo Credit: SSShupe

Friday, August 22, 2008

Time at the Cottage Ain't What it Used to Be

Although in my youth, I never really had the opportunity to hang out at a cottage, I was lucky enough to spend the first week of each summer at Pow Wow Point Lodge in Huntsville, Ontario. In recent years, my family has had numerous opportunities to enjoy at least parts of our summer at 'camp' on the shore of Lake Superior; at the cottages of friends along Lake Huron; and at Northern Edge Algonquin, in northern Ontario.

Upon return from our penultimate cottage visit of the summer, I've come to realize that our family getaways have lost the rustic charm that they once had. In just the last few days, I've taken note of many ways that technology is threatening to forever alter the classic cottage vacation.

At the outset, I found it difficult to unplug from my network. Even as we hit the road, my iPhone allowed me to keep tabs on a remote conference taking place in Windsor, Ontario. Once on the beach, I fought to resist the temptation to check Twitter for updates...

The landscape of crops is joined by dozens of wind turbines that dot the landcape of Lake Huron highlands. Even land surrounding the Bruce nuclear power plant is cluttered with a small army of snow white generators. Maybe they are less noticable in the winter time?

In a small scale reminder of "I Love Lucy", the use of plastic flowers at the 'Wha Happen' cabin,means the homeowner has only a few pots to water...

Time was, an antenna in a remote camp would only be able to get one channel... likely the CBC, which coincidentally, has always carried the Olympic games in Canada. One child preferred to 'play' Olympics on his handheld rather than watch the live satellite coverage.

Just a year ago, our cabin location would have been out of cell phone range, but network expansion meant that my friend Tony, was never completely away from work. Interestingly, expanding cell coverage likely makes it easier for many workaholics to join their families on retreat!

Whatever happened to crokinole or Monopoly? The Nintendo Wii was the main source of indoor entertainment for the kids.

After growing up sunburned, I find myself reminding the kids to lather up. Is SPF50 really necessary?!

Access to wireless networking in the cottage, ensured that iPods could be loaded for beach music, hikes, and bicycle rides. Doesn't anyone enjoy the white noise of surf?

I remember collecting nightcrawlers by flashlight, but at Sauble Beach, the vending machine is the easist way to collect a dozen live worms!

Even though the technology prevented us from truly 'getting away from it all', the highlights of our getaway were the swimming, campfires, sand sculptures, sunsets, beachcombing, barbecues and cold drinks on the deck... and I have the digital photos to prove it!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Baby Steps Are Not Enough

"If we continue to take 'baby steps', we'll one day have to take a giant leap!" George Siemens

Earlier today, on the first day of the ABEL Summer Institute at York University, I had the opportunity to duck into an intimate conversation/workshop with George Siemens and 8 other educators. Although I was only able to be present for 20 minutes or so, I found myself nodding in agreement at a number of realizations:

Current read/write tools for publishing student work provide opportunities for an expanded audience, but opportunities to expand the conversation are yet to be fully realized.

'One computer per individual' programs don't necessarily provide the interactivity that can be leveraged in 'one computer per group' classrooms.

In order to understand the importance of collaborative learning, educators should tap into personal learning networks beyond their classrooms/schools/districts.

Every day that we take 'baby steps' we continue to fall behind. What will it take for education to become relevant to the futures of our students?

Upon my return home, my feed-reader led me to this video from Candid Camera that illustrates for me how difficult it is for new teachers to avoid falling into the stale teaching methods of their staff room peers.

Taking even 'baby steps' among colleagues who are resistant to change, can be a major challenge! Even though babies learning to walk are allowed to fail and grow with support nearby, our 'baby steps' in developing teaching strategies and learning skills for the 21st century are often done without such backing.

Thank goodness, we've found one another!

Photo Credit: B. Baltimore Brown

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What's the Most Important thing You've Learned from Your PLN?

Tomorrow morning I'm taking a road trip to attend the ABEL Summer Institute where my session on Personal Learning Networks should dovetail nicely with the theme "Intersections: Where Learner, Literacy and Technology Meet."

In my session, I'll be highlighting a number of online tools that educators and students can harness to develop learning relationships with colleagues around the world. To this end, it seems a natural segue for me to invite members of my own PLN to contribute to the session.

While you are welcome to read the responses of other educators by scrolling to the bottom of my brief Personal Learning Networks Survey, I'd love to know "What's the most important thing you've learned from your PLN?" Who knows, you might one day find yourself teaching others about PLNs, by revisiting the results of this survey...

For the benefit of attendees and others interested PLN development, my workshop materials are located here: The Golden Fleece Wiki, Teacher 2.0, HomePageStartup, Delicious, Google Reader, Twitter.

Workshop attendees are invited to share their comments on the Social Networking for Teachers workshop by clicking the 'comment' button below.

Image Credit: Wordle has been used to reframe PLN survey responses.

Friday, August 15, 2008

My First 5 Album Covers

Last evening, Barbara Nixon prompted me to think about my the first album I purchased with my own money. Although I can't recall which was first, I'm fairly certain that the record albums below, were the first that I could afford. For the record, I was in 9th grade, and my recollection is that the albums cost around $5.99-$6.99.

Journey: Infinity I just loved the stylized wings/planets/beetles on each of Journey's album covers.

Rush: All the World's a Stage I used to know Neil Peart's side 3 drum solo by heart.

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV I must've worn out the grooves on "Stairway to Heaven"

Styx: Pieces of Eight Even today, songs from this album make me smile.

Queen: News of the World Our campus radio station played songs from this album every lunch period.

So, "What was your first personal music purchase?" Oddly, a more challenging question may be, "What is the most recent album you purchased?"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Last, but not Least

In recent weeks, I've given you a brief introduction to the work of the creative and innovative individuals whom I'm lucky enough to count as brothers. Now that I've finally got my hands on his most recent project, it's time to introduce you to Mark.

As a teacher in Windsor, Ontario, my brother Mark (brother number 4 by birth order), has always found ways to engage the power of media tools in the classroom. Whether leading his class to create unique 'graduation presentations', 'music videos', or 'schoolwide multimedia screenings', he has always sought to employ the most powerful apps available. One of the ways he builds upon his repertoire of rich projects, is to complete special assignments on his own. His latest work, embedded below, and is a definite show-stopper.

Filmed using his children in lead roles, and edited on his Mac, Star Wars VII may be destined for cult status once the YouTube fans find it...

Friday, August 8, 2008

One World, One Dream... by the Numbers

The Opening Ceremonies of Games of the 29th Olympiad were simply majestic! My colleague, Michael Redfearn and billions around the world were captivated by the spectacle, and even though I can't do justice to the event, I've decided to share a few moments that moved both my heart and my mind.

It all began at 8:08 p.m. on the 8th day of the 8th month of the year 2008... Fittingly, here are my 8 Opening Ceremonies highlights:

1] 2008 'Fou' drummers herald the opening in flawless synchronization including a 60 second countdown;

2] 29 Pyrotechnic footprints march to the 'Bird's Nest' stadium, a foreshadow of the thousands of colourful explosions that will punctuate the event;

3] a 9 year old Chinese girl provides entrance music for 56 children representing the diversity of the People's Republic;

4] Recitations from 3000 followers of Confucius bring to life a machine of 897 movable cubes;

5] While a famed Chinese pianist tinkled 88 keys, hundreds of youth form both dove and bird's nest;

6] In seeming defiance of the laws of physics, dozens of performers bound across the surface of an animated globe;

7] The parade of 204 countries includes 7' 6" Yao Ming carrying the flag of the People's Republic of China alongside a 9 year old earthquake survivor/hero;

8] A torch relay of 137,000 km culminates in one incredible mid-air running performance by gymnast and 6 time Olympic medalist Li Ning.

This prelude to the 29th Summer Olympic Games was indeed a memorable spectacle... one that will be long-remembered. Though political storms continue to brew around the world, in contrast to Pierre de Coubertin's vision, it is time to bring on the games... all 28 sports/302 events!

Photo Credit: Ken Yee

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Top Ten Tech Tools (Summer 2008)

Recently, Jane Hart of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies asked me to reflect on my top ten learning technologies, and while I've made sustained use of many tools from my original list (January 7, 2008), a number of new tools have cracked my Top 10. As we head into a new school year, my revised list now includes:

1. ScreenSteps: This is superior and simple to use tutorial creation utility. Great for creating software 'how to' documents as either PDFs or HTML pages.

2. ScreenFlow: Optimized for OS 10.5, this is the most polished screen grab utility on the market today. It's the best tool out there for creating engaging software demos and tutorials.

3. G-Mail: Simple, reliable, sortable, with effective filters (including spam filters) and plenty of room for large files and archives. The included writing tools and survey tools form a significant part of my 'cloud office'.

4. Google Reader: The Google franchise provides a common look/feel for my daily work. It helps that Google makes it simple for me to export/embed my RSS collections.

5. Blogger: I'm here many times a week, as this tool resulted in the genesis of

6. Twitter: Along with tools like Twhirl, and Twitterific, I leverage this tool to keep in touch with colleagues near and far. There is no other tool that provides as many links to rich content and ideas.

7. Garageband: Since January, I've been producing the Teacher 2.0 Podcast 3-4 times each week using this iLife app. Simple to use, it is a powerful creativity app.

8. Flickr's Creative Commons: I regularly use licensed photos from photographers around the world in my creative work.

9. Adobe Connect: This tool and it's online cousin Adobe ConnectNow continue to allow me to engage in meetings with geographically scattered colleagues, as both host and participant.

10. Keynote: Oooh-la-la! Stunning graphics, transitions and exports to clickable movie files, what more could you ask for in presentation software?

Check out the newly released Top Ten Tech Tools podcast on Teacher 2.0 for more details on these top ten learning technologies.

Photo Credit: David Guzikowski