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.

Mapping: From 2D technology to 3D models

Recently, I have been using a program called Neighborhood Map Machine to support the Grade 2 Social Studies unit on Communities and the Grade 3 unit on Mapping and Landforms.

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Above: A map mystery of an island community created by a student.

Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the program. Not only does it have many map mysteries and activities that reinforce mapping skills such as measurement, compass work, coordinates and direction but one of my favorite features is the ability for students to create their own maps and mysteries.

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Above: Students creating 3D models from their maps designed using Map Machine

Creating in general allows students to access higher-order thinking skills according to Bloom’s Revised Digital Taxonomy31637583

Neighborhood Map Machine allow students to not only create their own map and add roads, houses, people, buildings and landforms but also record audio, video or text clues for a mystery. They choose a mystery location and have students follow their own clues to find the secret location. All of this involves some considerable higher-order thinking since they need to plan their clues in advance and ensure that they communicate their clues clearly.

A colleague of mine had a great idea to take this a step further. We found out that you can print 3D nets of the buildings so we decided to have the students create a 3D model of their 2 D map that they had done during technology time.

I would love to hear how others have used this program in the classroom!

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3D model done by some Grade 2s

SMART boards to SMART classrooms

For the most part, most would argue that technology in the classroom is a good thing. Despite the technical mishaps, the learning curve for teachers and the occasional frustration of things not quite working the way you would like, it bring enormous rewards in terms of learning, student engagement, creativity and collaboration, especially with the development of web 2.0 tools.

The current school that I am working in, recently purchased a number of SMART boards for classrooms. On average, one per grade level/department. As a Information Technology teacher, I also have one in my computer lab. SMART boards definitely have that “wow factor” for everyone. Students would gasp at my apparent magical ability to prerecord welcome messages to them and play them back through the screen recorder. Parents who were CEO executives would beg me to come to their board meetings to give demos on the presentation power of these devices.Teachers would pop in for visits during my classes and then ask me how they can get one in their classrooms.

Full disclosure:I am by no means a SMART board guru. I just starting using them a few weeks ago.

So in my limited use of them. I still have learned the basics of using them and all their fun little tools attached to the Notebook software. I am dabbling into the vast sea of resources out there. The fact is, SMART boards are not new technology by any means. Many schools in the UK have them installed in every classroom. SMART technologies first introduced the interactive whiteboard in 1991. 18 years later, they are finally making their way into some schools as a new technology!

Despite all their advantages, some might argue that they are just a  gloried chalkboard. Think about it, when the first chalkboards were introduced into classrooms back in 1801, it must have turned the education system upside down. Imagine, being able to write your ideas on a board for students to read, copy and recite! Revolutionary indeed. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the SMART board as an instructional tool but I’m not convinced it is the best learning tool..if that makes sense (and if my principal is reading this, please don’t take my SMART board away 😉 ). I taught in a classroom that was 1:1 and at the time, our Technology Director had the choice of buying SMART boards or getting laptops for each student. He chose the latter for this reason. I would put SMART boards in the same category as instructional tools such as overhead projectors, document cameras and data projectors. They are all really nice to have. However, as I watch one student come up to the SMART board at a time while everyone else watches, I go back to one of the greatest teachers of all, Confucious, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”  How can we increase the “doing” in classrooms?

So how can we make “SMART” classrooms?

Let me put it this way, if you had $10 000 to invest in the learning of a classroom through technology, how best would you spend the money?

With this in mind:

SMART Board $1200 – $3000
LCD Projector $750 – $3000
PC or Mac $750 – $4000
Projector Light Bulb $50 – $150
$3,450 –  $10,050

Would you:

A-Buy 10 laptops for the classroom

B-Buy 1 SMART board (laptop, projector, etc) + maybe 1 other laptop

C-Buy 1 projector +9 laptops

D-Buy 1 projector +1 laptop +18 ipod touch(es)

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Please post your answers in the comment section below. I’m more interested to hear other viewpoints.

It’s not about “the stuff”, it’s about the learning

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This the venue of the summit-Canadian International School. And yes, that is canadian timber imported from BC on the roof. They even served Canadian back-bacon for breakfast. Made me feel like I was home..

What the Conference was really about:

It’s taken me a week to finally get my head around the learning from the Hong Kong Apple Leadership Summit. In a word, it was inspiring. Many people asked me afterwards, “Hey, how was the conference?” and for whatever reason, it was difficult to summarize. Others commented, “Wow, with all those technology gurus, you must have learned some really  apps.” Surprisingly, I couldn’t recall a single application that I learned about that hadn’t already used. Then again, it wasn’t so much about learning about new tools (although there were some hands-on workshops), it was the how to use these tools to improve learning for students. This is exactly how it should be with our students. I truely believe that technology has turned a corner in their evolutionary path in education. Technology conferences used to be about everyone opening the same computer program and a supposed “expert” stand in the front of the room teach us non-digital natives how to do all the ins and outs of the program. It was mind-numbing and overwhelming. There was usually no context for the learning and a week later, we would forget everything we learned. Nowadays, we have gotten a little smarter and we know there are better ways to use technology in the classroom. Best practices integrating technology show that we must be teaching skills “just in time” so that skills are meaningful, appropriate and relevant. Just-in-Time (JIT) learning challenges the traditional educational model that assumes the information is tied to one source (usually the teacher or textbook). JIT learning happens because the learner is motivated to learn and they need to learn something in order to accomplish the task. There were so many of these types of moments during the conference.

A Conference-Web 2.0 style

So back to the conference. I really knew that this was going to be a dynamic and engaging conference when many of the participants were twittering #hksummit (this was the tagline of the conference) while the conference was going on. There were over 50 pages of tweets and it was the one of the top 5 “trending topics” on Twitter. Very exciting stuff.  In addition, there was a backchat channel where some of the most exciting conversations were happening in response to the speakers. People where streaming the conference live on their iPhone and then broadcasting it via ustream. There is also a Facebook group page that was created during the session. Imagine if we had this level of engagment in our schools..

Keynote Speakers:

  • Tom Kelley, author of Ten Faces of Innovation spoke about innovation and how vital they are for organizations to develop.
  • Stephen Heppell, a professor, a wealth of information and recipient of the first-ever “Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in ICT Education” award
  • Vivien Stewart, VP for Education at Asia Society
  • Marco Torres, a high school teacher, media coach, and education technology director for San Fernando High School. He is a professional filmmaker and photographer who uses his digital storytelling skills in education

Here is a great summary video of the conference that could probably summarize it better than I could.

Following the keynote speakers, there were fantastic break-out sessions led by Apple Distinguished Educators and other leaders about these topics:

  • Technology and Pedagogy in International Schools-An Introduction to iWork
  • 1:1 @ The Canadian International School of Hong Kong
  • Connecting with your Community: Podcasting for leadership
  • Proof of Effective Learning: A Case Study of Concordia International School, Shanghai
  • Social Studies Integration
  • Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow-Today! and Challenge-based Learning
  • Supporting Technology Infusion using Laptop Carts-A Case Study by Shanghai American School
  • Future IT: Confronting your Inner Control Freak
  • Connecting Classrooms Across Continents: Planning and Implementing Globally Collaborative Projects
  • Designing Technology Infused Lessons
  • Lights! Camera! Learn!
  • Infusing Technology into Language Studies
  • Developing the Global Student: Practical ways to Infuse 21st Century Literacy into the Classroom
  • Moving to a 1:1-A Model for Professional Development from Nanjing International School
  • Community Advocacy with Web 2.0
  • Behind the Red Door (Research Education Development)
  • Multi-platform integration-A Case Study of Renaissance College Hong Kong
  • Framing Acceptable Technology Use in a 21st Century Learning Environment
  • Rock Out (and learn) in Your Class
  • IBO/DP Oral Assessment with GarageBand
  • Models for Teaching Teachers Technology at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong
  • Get Connected! Video Conferencing in the Classroom
  • Creating Student Film Festivals
  • Setting Leadership Examples with the use of ICT
  • Reinventing Western Academy of Beijing
  • Korean International School 1:1 Lesson Learned

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend 2 break-out sessions because they were being held simultaneously. There were so many interesting sessions as well and if anyone had further links to these sessions, I would love to see the notes.

Odds and Ends:

Overall, it was a fantastic conference and really well run by Apple and superb venue by the Canadian International School of Hong Kong For me, it’s about connecting, whether it be learning, people or ideas. I think all three of them happened at the conference. It was great to finally meet some people face-to-face after only knowing them through a digital environment @mscofino @RobinThailand @IPittman and see some familiar faces and friends @debbiediaz1 @annabelhoward @transpac_canuck @sbradshaw

One thing that was interesting was that the evaluation forms by Apple were all in given to us in paper form. Sigh..well I guess there is always something to improve upon for next conference 😉

So many great links and videos shared. Really enjoyed this one and feel like it encapsulated the essence of the conference.

My Favorite Quotes:

“We look at technology as a tool, students look at technology as an environment” Stephen Heppell

“Attendance is compulsory and learning is optional” vs “Learning is compulsory and attendance is optional”-Stephen Heppell

“Technology is only technology to those before that tech was invented. To children it is the world they live in.”

“You don’t develop water safety by waiting until kids are 16 and then throwing them off the pier.” Stephen Heppel in response to AUPs and online safety

RSS Readers-How to save valuable time on the net

I don’t know about you but I feel like I’m getting sucked into the never ending vortex of information. Between keeping in touch with friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, multiple email accounts and  different chat programs. I feel like my time is getting squeezed out of me. On top of all the communicating and connecting, I am trying to stay up to date with news, information, and blogs. I’m slowly figuring out how to balance my time and know that I can’t possibly read everything and listen to every podcast that comes out. There is a finite amount of time out there so we need to learn how to use our time more efficiently.

This definitely applies to information. As educators, we need to be able to get the information that we need and that’s most relevant to us. We also need to be teaching these skills to our students.

One answer is to use RSS readers. The term “RSS” (Really Simple Syndication) is really just a simplified text feed of a web page. Most web pages have RSS feeds so that you can get the information that is published on the web page. By using an RSS reader, you can subscribe to multiple feeds from all your favorite web sites in one place.

So instead of going to multiple web sites to read all your information, you go to your RSS reader page and see everything on one page. It is automatically updated and shows you what you have read and haven’t read.Think about how much time you spend, typing in addresses, opening tabs, waiting for pages to load. With an RSS reader, you skip all this. Of course, there are times when you do want to go to the page to see graphics or read the full article. However, you can filter this information and the information in personalized to your interest.

Still confused? Ok, here is a quick video from Common Craft explaining it in more detail: Common Craft-RSS Readers

Personally, I use Netvibes as my RSS reader. This is just a personal preference. I like the visual appearance of it.

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD

I suddenly had an epiphany. I have been hearing about so many web 2.0 tools over the past years. I kept reading and hearing about all the new tools being created. It started with Youtube. I checked it out and was amazed at the amount of videos out there. Mostly, it was overwhelming and once in awhile, I would go out and check a few funny videos that my friends would send me but I didn’t get it. I opened up a Facebook account, started installing every new application I could get my hands on but it mostly seemed like a timewaster. All these tools did. The people that did seem to have the time, were teenagers and students. I mean who has time to find other users and tag and upload all this stuff.

I consider myself an early adopter when it comes to tools but I quickly got consumed by all these new tools and none of them seemed to make my life any easier. As a teacher, I have enough things to worry about with meetings, emails, unit plans and a billion other things. Who really has time to start creating all these accounts on Twitter, wikis, blogs, Usteam, etc?! But then it hit me a couple of months ago. The power of connection.

We as humans are wired to be connected. It is a basic human need to want to belong. As a teacher, we go out of our way to ensure that students are safe and that they belong. Without it, true learning can’t take place. That is the driving force. I would sign up for all these accounts but didn’t really connect with others through it. Thus, it wasn’t useful to me. None of these tools are useful unless you start making connections with others, whether it be colleagues, friends, family or simply strangers that share a common passion.

A few months ago, I attended a digital learning conference in Jakarta. I attended so many different workshops and was soaking in every minute of it. My head was spinning and I could barely keep up. I remember going to a workshop by Jeff Utecht on PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). I almost didn’t go but arrived late and the workshop was completely full. I knew nothing about PLNs and had just heard about Twitter and knew a bit about RSS feeds. I frantically bookmarked all the sites he talked about but it did intrigue me. Jeff said, “give yourself 2 weeks on Twitter and it will totally change your life”. He went on to tell us that we should set up a RSS page using Netvibes. It slowly started to make sense. I had like 5 followers on Twitter but nothing really happened to recently. I remember reading a great blog and added her to my Twitter. She started to post really interesting blogs and websites about things that I was passionate about. Slowly, almost by accident, I started to create my own PLN of people who were passionate about technology and learning. Now I get it.

PLNs will be the way of the future. They trump any PD session that I have attended (save the technology one perhaps) since I am finding out information quickly and efficiently and it’s relevant and interesting to me. I believe that we as educators need to get on board on this train. The whole idea of connectivism is the way of the future. See this great video that explains this idea in detail. Our students are already there and we need to get there too or the schools will be left in the dust.

How to get a PLN started? That will be the topic of the next blog… Continue reading Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) are the new PD