Does digital media disconnect us from the past?

As human being, we tend to live in the future. What am I going to have for dinner? What will I say in my next meeting? Where should we go on our next vacation? Rarely do we take the time to open up those old dusty photo albums and reminisce about the past. The times that we do can truly be powerful and bring back a flood of emotions. But there is something special about doing so with something physical  and tangible such as a photo album, souvenir, or gift.  It is often more special when you can share that with a friend of family member. The past makes us appreciate the moment and be grateful for the things we have.

Family Album

So why is the past important? As Stuart Mclean, a famous Canadian radio broadcaster, author and storyteller, puts it in one of his Vinyl Cafe stories, Niagra Falls (which I highly recommend a listen)

Sometimes however, when we are lucky, we feel we get to reach out and touch yesterdays both near and far. When we’re very lucky we feel the human connection with those that were hear before us. That’s why we read books, that’s why we study history and listen to recordings of years gone by…

Only very occasionally and only by surprise does the past tip toe behind you and whisper in your ear,  and remind you that we are not alone and there were others before us who laughed and loved too. And when this happens we should stop and salute the ghosts of our past and acknowledge even if it’s with a shrug, the grinding passage of time.

So this brings me to my question. With the development of podcasts, blogs, ipads and online photo albums, do we run the risk of sacrificing a disconnect with the past since we lose that physical and somewhat more permanent component? Of course, blog posts are supposedly saved somewhere in cyberspace and Flickr promises not to delete photos. But having all our memories and connections saved in gigabytes and fiber optic cables seems a tad disconcerting to me. What will the future look like for family get togethers? Having everyone gather around an ipad and view a family wedding as tears of nostalgia stream down. Or will even be in the same physical space? Will we be subjected to merely sharing comments via Facebook such as “LOL, Mom remember when u burnt that birthday cake 🙂 ROFL “?  Time will only tell I suppose…

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Reflecting on the “e-path” traveled

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As we are on the homestretch of the school year, I finally have a moment to reflect on the year? After so much teacher technology inservice and so many amazing projects being accomplished by using technology, I ask myself, did we accomplish our goals as a technology team?

One of my main goals as a Elementary Technology Facilitator, was to help teachers, help themselves so ultimately, they can help their own students improve their learning.

Finally after months of hard work, I can really start to see the growth of our school in a technology sense. Initially, many teachers came with a very basic amount of technology skills (most were comfortable with email and websites) and few used some of the innovative software that we had installed on our macs. 2 years ago when I mentioned things like Photobooth and iMovie, I was greeted with blank stares from teachers. In contrast, now many teachers use these tools on a daily basis to create their own class movies and projects. In fact, these teachers are now becoming experts in their own right and teaching other teachers. Here is just a partial list of some of the amazing anecdotal notes I have made about using technology school-wide to improve learning:

  • Teachers spontaneously creating/editing their own iMovie projects
  • Teachers creating their own Google class web site (wiki) and have their students working on their own e-portfolios till late at night
  • Teachers teaching each other how to create Keynotes, podcasts and slideshows
  • Classes using iStop Motion to capture changes in the life cycle of a caterpillar over the course of the day
  • Students coming down to our sound studio with scripts and ideas to create their own podcast shows
  • Students creating and developing their own iStop animation projects and uploading them to YouTube (and checking the “hit status daily)
  • Many teachers (and students) have their own personal and class blog sites
  • Our assemblies have become lively, student-centered, media-rich dynamic presentations using many technology tools embedded in their presentations
  • 8 SMART boards have been used and they have been so popular that over 23 more have been requested for next year
  • Document cameras and projectors have become the expected “norm” for classrooms
  • Parents have got excited about technology and have done inservice sessions on Web 2.0 themes and iPhone apps
  • We have got a class set of iPod Touches approved for a pilot program for next year!

I’m sure there are so many others but sometimes it is always good to stop and look back and appreciate the road that we have traveled rather than the obstacles ahead.

My iPod Touch Apps-

Here are my current iPod Touch Apps. Some of my favorites are:

Instapaper-Great little app that allows you to save web content to read offline. This is great for traveling at airports. You can view all content later while you are flying

Air Sharing-Great file management and for downloading and transfering files between computers. Allows you to add keynotes, ppt, word documents and view them on your iphone/ipod touch.

eReader-Love this one for traveling as well. Same as a Kindle in that you can download books and read them. Makes traveling all that much lighter!

Convertbot-Handy conversion tool for just about anything that you could possible think of including weight, length, volume, currency, speed. Love the interface too!

Drinks Free-This is great for parties and wondering which drinks you can make with which ingredients. You can put in what you have and it will tell you which cocktails you can make with it

iFitness-If you are into physical training, this app is amazing. If you are like me and forget what exercises you have done a few days ago and how much you lifted, this helps a lot. It allows you to view exercises for any specific muscle group, log reps and weights and even graphs performance overtime. Also, has nice photos and even videos.

Team Teaching=Team Learning

“Wow, why haven’t we been doing this all year?” we both said to each other. We are both Grade 2 teachers, passionate about teaching, and had very little time to plan these experiments. Our team had been planning a series of science experiments for our Grade 2 classes. We had the same schedule and so the logical thing was to try and put both our classes together (16 in each) and team teach each experiment. On top of that, we were given some rather mundane outdated science lessons (although very comprehensive). We decided to spruce them up. The results were amazing.

Not only did it enhance the actual instruction we gave to the kids but the students benefited with working with each other through a series of hands-on experiences on Changes in Matter. We had both our classes sit together on the floor of the science lab while we walked them through essential understandings, big questions and had students make predictions. Students were partnered up with their science buddy.

One of the greatest benefits during the lesson delivery was that we could piggy-back on each others questions and ideas. When you are doing a lesson on your own, you don’t have that think time during instruction. The beauty of having another set of teacher eyes and ears is that you could clarify points that the other teacher made or left out. We would also learn teaching ideas from each other. Simple things that sometimes you forget to use as a teacher but seeing it modeled by a colleague with you quickly reminds you of the benefits.

The other benefit was that we could plan ideas to extend the experiments or reteach areas that students were struggling with. For example, we had an extra experiments set up at the back where students could go if they finished early and make observations on shells and rocks, draw diagrams or combine different mixtures. This idea came out of planning together.

Furthermore, we would always have a wrap up whole class(es) discussion at the end where students could summarize their observations and inferences and we could guide them in their understanding. We added some fun to it and would choose “Top Scientists” who made great observations, helped out, answered questions carefully, etc. We would give them little stickers that they put on their science lab books. Although extrinsic in nature, stickers motivated students throughout the lesson and increased the quality of work. Who says stickers are a bad thing? 🙂

Finally, it helped with classroom logistics. Luckily, we had a lab assistant set up all the experiments beforehand. But during the experiments, problems happen. A students spills water or loses their lab work. Having 2 teaching bodies in there allows one to deal with the issue while the other can move the class along.

So the questions remain, why did it work so successfully between our 2 classes? We both have similar constructivist teaching styles which helps. Another reason is that we have a “yes and..” approach. In other words, if one teacher has an idea, the other says yes and builds upon the idea. Will it work with other classes and teachers? Who knows but would love to hear about other success stories.

We are both so excited about the idea that we are now going to team teach Math lessons..in the science lab!

Making our own fun

I believe it’s time for a little mid-year reflection of life in Malaysia.

KL is a fun place to live in. Even more fun when you have the right people to spend it with. A friend said to me recently, “it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, it’s who you are with.” Though I’ve always believed this, for some reason, this really resonated with me. I’ve had just as much fun at the beach in Cherating (east coast of Malaysia) as I’ve had anywhere. When Malaysians look at me funny as if why would you ever want to go there?! Well, it is a beach but not a fancy resort, no kite surfing or fire shows. Each time I’ve gone, I’ve been fortunate to have the right group of friends around. Instead, we make our own fun.

Making our own fun. This brought back nostalgic memories of childhood, way before the internet, video games or even cable tv were invented where I would meet my friends on the corner of the block and we would jump on our BMX bikes through the foothills of the outskirts of surburbian Calgary looking for an adventure. We would go on quests to find tadpoles and gophers. We would play tag for hours on this little playground. No plans. No passive entertainment. During these times, we used our own creativity and spontaneity to laugh and enjoy the moment.

Perhaps this is such a rare commodity in today’s fast paced, techno-filled world where we expect that the world owes us entertainment at the snap of a finger. I see this in my students too. They crave those precious minutes during the day where I can let them simply be kids and create their own games and fun.

I saw two videos recently that really made me think about creativity, learning and being grateful in life. The first one I watched on TED talks (linked) on how schools are killing creativity. The other was just a funny one I saw on a friend’s facebook page from the Conan O’Brian show. Here’s the link The comedian had a good point though, we have come to raise the bar in what we expect in life. Even a simple thing as making a phone call, we take for granted. Just think of our students who have never known anything different.

For me, I guess I value creativity a little more and appreciate the moments I have along the way with the friends I have.