Friday, October 28, 2011

Caging the Mockingbird

Whether physical, virtual or systemic, when you attempt to move forward, or to move in new directions, you are bound to bump up against obstacles. As an advocate for making school more relevant for learners of all ages, I'm feeling a like a bird stuck in a shrinking cage.

Case in Point
This semester, a colleague of mine took a leap of faith to introduce a collaborative project to his English students. Students were grouped and assigned rotating roles that involve writing, drawing, recording, designing, and leading. The multi-week project is focused on the novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and has resulted in the development of group websites at While you can see some of the work students completed in the early days, network access to the site has now been blocked.

After reading Chris Kennedy's How to Stop Good Ideas Getting Shot Down, I have come to realize that many of John Kotter's 'blocks to good ideas' are serving as barriers the use of technology in my school:

Fear Mongering: "The website puts the security of the network is at risk."

Death by Delay: "If you review your unfiltering request with your principal, and your principal makes a recommendation to program council, and program council approves the use of the site, then a communication to ICT will allow us to consider whether or not we can provide access."

Confusion: "Facebook is the problem. If they do this, then that, while visiting that URL, then students would be able to access their Facebook accounts through the site."

Do those making the decision to modify filtering policies even consider the ramifications? Working to engage in his students in this rich project-based learning experience, my colleague ensured that student roles addressed expectations in reading, writing and media. He had to ensure his classroom could accommodate a range of production team roles; had to book computer lab time, and had to find a way to assess the differentiated contributions of participants. More than that, he had to take a huge risk attempting a project he'd never done before.

It's been three school days since access to Wix has been blocked. If things change, I'll add an update in the comments below. In the meantime, I have no idea what to suggest for the lessons lost, or yet to come. Should we encourage the students to work at home on these tasks? Do we complete the tasks offline? Dare we re-invent the project?

Maybe it's just not worth trying to be a mockingbird?
"Please take out your pencils and notebooks and copy this note from the board... There will be a test on this material next week."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Put Your Mark on the Map

One of the things in education that makes little sense to me, is that in general, students have to prove their knowledge by writing things down. If it's not proven on a test or written assignment, it doesn't count. When this 'proof' of learning is only seen by the teacher, I'm doubly dismayed.

What if students could highlight their knowledge digitally, and then communicate their learning with a global audience. If you'd like to test the motivating factor of the 'real world', you now have access to an on-going ready-made project:Google Map Maker has just launched in Canada.

What if students:

1] plotted bus routes;
2] mapped local playgrounds;
3] charted neighbourhood hangouts;
4] added historic event markers;
5] posted photos of the area;
6] showed the best places to park your car;
7] plotted fire hydrants;
8] highlighted the best places to experience nature;
9] identified the stores, churches, public spaces;
10] thought about what others would appreciate having on a map...

Contributions will be reviewed by map experts at Google, and maybe, just maybe, the work of students will become a permanent fixture on the world map. Now that's something that might engage a learner a bit more fully than sharing knowledge by way of exam or essay.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dear Teacher...

I saw this note to Nazhir, and though I don't know him, I couldn't help but pen a response on his behalf.

Dear Teacher:

I know that you like to share your wisdom by speaking;
but do you realize that I like to talk too.

I know that you like it when we write neatly in our notebooks;
but can you tell that I don't like scraping a pencil on paper to make words?

I know that you have many answers;
but when will we have time to pursue some of my questions?

I know that rows of desks and chairs can be orderly;
but do you really think you could handle sitting for one full day in my chair?

I know that you care about how I do in school;
but do you care enough about me to know what I most like to do?

I know that you found school interesting enough to start a career here;
but do you love it enough to keep on learning?

I know that you are giving us skills to help us be successful in school;
but can you also give us the keys to being successful at life?

I know that you're working in a system that is less than perfect;
but what are you going to do today, to help me realize you care?

Dear Reader:

I know you read blogs, at least on occasion;
but do you have any ideas to add in using the pattern: "I know... but..."?

I know that you know that Twitter exists;
but did you know you can tweet with the tag: #dearteacher

Image credits: subewl, Nationaal Archief