Friday, 28 October 2011

Education Restart

My digital literacy students started with the project detailed in the post below. They first watched the 2007 video by Michael Wesch titled, A vision of students today. They conducted research and presented their findings in this video. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Room to learn

CC image via flickr by Marcin Wichary 
I have decided to step off of the stage and remove my sage sash (say it 5 times fast...go!). In my digital & Information literacy course my students are the authors of their learning, not me. I still present a new tool or lesson at the beginning of class, but I hardly remain on stage longer than five minutes. This is merely a demonstration. In many classes I am learning with the students and seen as a resource.  As a result I have noticed happier, more engaged students. Plus, I have witnessed students asking more relevant questions, thinking their way through a problem rather than me telling them, and seeking out all available resources to find a solution. In short the learning is theirs they own it.

The project at the end of this post is something my class is working on at the moment and I’d like to share it with you. The objective is to create a comprehensive guide for digital citizenship and understanding your digital identity and privacy. I designated project managers and provided objectives and outcomes for the class along with a five point structure of what should be covered.

As this project progresses, so has my classroom dynamic.  I walk into class, briefly check in with the project managers, and watch the students work. Yesterday, I came in an introduced them to Diigo. I presented this tool for roughly five minutes and then let them get to work. As soon as I finished presenting I witnessed a bustling office with everyone seeking out his or her task for the day. Students were moving around the room and communicating with each other. I could over hear problem deconstruction and decisions being made. Throughout each period all of their progress is documented on a shared Google doc. Each team, as well as the project managers, shares a doc with me. As they develop and accomplish tasks, they add them and eventually check them off on the Google doc. I witness communication, networking with other groups, community building, problem solving, critical thinking, and engagement. My class functions like most places of work. It’s relevant.

I encourage you to steal the project below and make it better. In fact, remix and share it with others. I will share the final result once students complete this project. Don’t feel this type of learning is impossible in core subjects. This type of project has potential across all content areas and all the way up Bloom’s taxonomy. Also, this is not a technology driven lesson. Students could complete the same type of project without any technology in the classroom.

Instead of a Google doc students could collaborate on large post-it easel paper. They could conduct research in their library and pull all available resources to find the most current, credible articles on the subject of digital citizenship. They could use pen and paper to take notes and interview teachers, students and administrators.

I could go on, but you get my point. This is not ground breaking or anything profound. It simply puts the onus on the student to learn by doing and own their learning. Students can find their niche in this project and learn something that interests them. I encourage you, the reader, and the educator, to try this. Take off your sage sash and see what happens. I imagine you will discover, along with your students, some pretty amazing results.
Today we are about to embark on another exciting project. Once again our class must come together as a team and create a comprehensive guide for understanding digital citizenship and knowing how to take care of your digital identity.


Develop a comprehensive guide for maintaining your digital identity and understanding your web privacy. Your target audience should be high school students.

Your appointed project managers are                              


What you should present at the conclusion of this project...

1. Have a website that you can showcase your information, research, and media you find on digital citizenship, web privacy, and maintaining a healthy digital identity. This website will showcase your findings and serve as a resource for future BHS students and high school students beyond Burlington. You should include information you find, links, interviews, videos, pictures, etc. The media you post must be authored by you or cited properly.

2. Go to the source: Interview students, teachers, parents, and administrators and ask them what they know about digital citizenship and maintaining their digital identity. All interviews must have consent and highlight that this information will be posted online publicly. NOTE: You may want to seek out a generic consent form.

3. Submit research and studies that detail why it is imperative to maintain and understand your digital identity as a high school student. This can come in the form of interviews with teachers, administrators, experts, or articles you find on line. Any assertion you make must include supporting evidence. Remember, you are presenting support for those that say students in high school have no business on these sites. Prove them wrong.

4. Cover all the bases: Think about what sites your peers use and find out all the good, the bad, and the ugly concerning these sites. Check out Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Formspring, Blogs, etc. and detail why students can be trusted to use this type of forum to empower their voice and present research to back up your points. NOTE: You may want to include sections for each site on your website. One link could be an entire guide about understanding your Facebook privacy settings.

5. Many say that BHS is crazy for allowing students to use iPads, and mobile phones in class; present examples of what we are doing and why we are doing it. Provide examples in the form of research and studies as to why we allow these devices. Also poll teachers and administrators.

Grading notes...
You will be graded on your interaction and engagement with your team/group and feedback from your project managers. I suggest that each team, once assembled, shares a Google doc with me and the other members should post daily progress and any information you gather. This documentation will be the bulk of your grade. The end result will speak for itself. I am more interested in the process, your interaction with each other each day in class, and how you accomplish a task as a team.


I want the project managers to propose a working time frame for completing this project. Once submitted, we will stick to that schedule. If we need to adjust the schedule, the project managers must connect with me and provide support for extending the time.

Monday, 10 October 2011

How We're Learning

The past month has been very exciting time at Burlington High School. On the first day of school every student showed up with an iPad 2. Our first few weeks did not accurately resemble those simple, clean Apple iPad commercials. There were hiccups and challenges along the way. In some cases, we were all learning by trial and error, and by doing. It was great to observe colleagues seeking new approaches to learning and using the device as a vehicle to replace passive learning with active engagement.  As this year progresses we hope to learn from our mistakes and continue to provide the most relevant, engaging learning environment for our students.

One thing I have noticed here at Burlington is that with the sweeping integration of a new device, many seem to be trying new things at the risk of a possible fail. For many of us, this is hard to overcome. I have started working with some teachers on various class projects and, while these projects are exciting and engaging, the distribution and presentation of them is occasionally met with a hiccup. This isn’t to say that teachers are ill prepared, but instead it is showing determination in the face of possible failure. What’s more is that our students get to see a model for taking on educated risks. I have yet to meet a teacher who stands in front of a classroom and bats 1.000. To quote the Dead Parrot Monty Python sketch, “It ceases to exist!” And that is a good thing.

Another good thing is the new approaches to learning many teachers are taking on this year. I had the opportunity to work with a few teachers this past month and in some cases, collaboratively teach the class. Here are a few of those highlights:
Michael Milton is teaching the Enlightenment period through social media. Each student cohort was assigned a philosopher from the period. Student groups started researching their philosopher and collecting facts about their respective philosopher. Students then created a social profile for their philosopher using Twitter and a blogger page. Once these pages and profiles were created, Milton had students write introductory blog posts for each persona. The blog posts were written from the philosophers’ point of view. Once the posts were completed, students asked the philosophers questions using the comment section on the blog. This conversation was extended to Twitter as well. Student groups had to field questions from users on Twitter (many of which were teachers at BPS) and learned how to aggregate Twitter conversations using a hashtag.

This experience remixes the traditional and allows the students to not just be the recipients of information, but also drive it.  To many students, this subject matter is boring and trite, however when you allow students to engage with the content rather than just receive it you create a more fruitful learning experience.

Another exciting experience is happening in our foreign language department. Our Italian students recently traveled abroad for a week in Cles, Italy. They spent time at a host school and got a first hand experience of another culture. While abroad, another Italian class at BHS got to Skype with their peers abroad. While this type of connection seems commonplace in today’s world, the experience for many students was memorable. Students opened up the videoconference and held a dialogue in Italian with their peers abroad and the Italian students they were sitting with. They got to experience the immediate relevancy and powerful impact learning another language can have. Students also began to rethink our place in the global classroom. These students experienced how powerful connections can be and how using these types of social learning tools can impact and enliven their learning.

These are just two examples of the new approaches to learning happening this year at Burlington High School. In both cases, there were things that didn’t go right; an application crashed, a restart was needed, and the network was not found. This is normal and is what we should come to expect. The message that we take from this is that both teachers attempted to try something new at the risk of a potential hiccup in order to give their students a relevant learning experience. In both examples listed above the students involved in these lessons were not simply the recipients of information, they were the authors of their learning. As educators, this should be our objective each time we step in front of a class. Each time we create a lesson plan we should ask, “Are my students inactive participants in their learning? Or are they the authors?”