It’s taken a while for me to begin to see the extent of what Mr. Dave Truss is getting at here, but it’s beginning to happen.
With my ears still ringing from one of our program’s cultural outings, this one a benefit concert put on by local bands – including TALONS ’09 alumni Jeff Huggins’ band the Knots – at Centennial Secondary, organized by grade ten student, Kiko, I am compelled to report on a few highlights in the class’ interview solicitation. Textbook research drawing to a close, a few of our students are finding success in accessing primary source information through email, and as of this evening, their blogs.
Andrea reports that “this year is so much better than last year,” as she:
… first started by e-mailing the Corrie ten Boom museum in Holland to get the dimensions of the Hiding Place where she concealed the Jewish people in her home. Because I am an english speaker and wrote my question in english they redirected my email to Emily Smith in San Diego who volunteer at the museum in the summer and wrote the book “A visit to the Hiding Place-The life changing experiences of Corrie ten Boom.” This book that she wrote is only available online, but Emily Smith gave me her personal address to send the money order to because she check her work mail only twice a month. I ordered the book to help me with my project and I got it a week ago and it is filled with many pictures and personal items which I could not find anywhere else.
There were, as ever, other complications:
Last week I also realized that I need to serve Corrie ten Boom’s favourite food at the Night of the Notables and none of her books mention anything about what she enjoyed eating I decided to email Emily Smith again. The next day I received a reply not only mentioning her two favourite foods but with links to recipes I can use to make them.
Elsewhere, Ariana – who tonight learned for the first time about Alice Cooper via one of the performer’s T-Shirts – has been rewarded for her effort in researching Frida Kahlo:
On Sunday, I sent off e-mails to the curators of seven different art galleries with works by Kahlo. Yesterday I came home to three replies in my inbox! One of these, from the Phoenix Art Museum, was more than a page long and included quotes and links. Last year, for the same project (I studied Petra Kelly), I only received one response three weeks or so after I e-mailed my questions.
In an experiential variation on my previous post on obtaining interviews, she offers this advice:
- Show that you spent time and effort on your e-mail. If you do this people are more likely to spend time and effort on their reply back.
- Explain about yourself and the project you are undertaking. (I think half the reason I got such a long reply back from the Phoenix Art Museum was because the curator grew up in Victoria.)
- Demonstrate that you researched your topic well before coming to others for supplementary information. This way, it doesn’t appear that you are asking questions with answers easily available online or at the library.
And then this evening, whist passing one of the gear-changes on stage with a quick checking of my phone’s Google Reader, I found this comment left on Donya’s blog, a testament to the power of a functioning digital network. Responding to a Tweet I sent out last night, Mr. Blair Miller of Surrey’s Frank Hurt had come across my request and jumped into action:
I had a tweet from Mr. Jackson on Twitter regarding your interest in information on famous blind/deaf artists. There are a number of blind and deaf artists, but the art world is a difficult one to gain fame in. One thing that you might consider for your project is looking instead at disabled artists more generally and think about the conditions that disabled artists work under.
Mr. Miller – whose response continues for another four paragraphs with questions to consider, as well as supplemental links that are invaluable resources – should know that he has contributed to this process greatly already, as I arrived home tonight to see that Donya had posted a tweet referring to a possible change of perspective in her upcoming address to the class – abandoning the potentially rich narrative voice of Mark Twain, and taking another look at the influence of Hellen Keller, one inspired by Blair’s comment.
At the conclusion of the project, students are encouraged to write thank you notes to their interview subjects and mentors throughout the process. This year I am happy to see that this could entail a lot of notes. Thanks to those out there helping us along so far!
As mentioned earlier on this blog, students in our program have traditionally encountered difficulty attaining interviews with experts during our annual autumn Eminent Person study – as well as establishing mentorships in the spring’s In-Depth study. To combat this trend, this year the class enlisted parent volunteers to act as “practice” interview subjects. The topic of the interview was:
As an adult, how and what have you learned related to work, recreation, and parenting?
Today in class students shared their successes and areas requiring improvement as they move toward their “actual” interviews, accessing experts on their selected eminent people, and in the course of a ten-minute class discussion each group boiled down the experience of each member to one or two tips for future interviews that were pooled to create a ranging How To for next time. This conversation will hopefully prove to be useful as students set out again to gather information as part of a larger project. But the true surprise – for me anyway – in the exercise came with the one-sentence summaries of the parent-interviews I had the students complete as a means of checking the homework. I was struck with the parents’ sincerity and wisdom, and am incredibly appreciative that so many of our class’ parent-community were willing to share their thoughts about living, learning and a wealth of diverse perspectives on work and education with our students. What set out to be a practical exercise in carrying out an element of research became not only an exercise in community, but a testament to the power of adding a human touch to the world outside the classroom.
After a long evening of marking students’ blogs – as energizing a marking experience as I have ever had though, each student’s work brimming with confidence and individuality that doesn’t always make it into a “formal essay” (which will be coming up next…) – I am “rewarding” myself in sharing these slips of scrap paper that were today’s homework check, and are filled with the wisdom of my classroom’s extended (yet local) village.
“…patience and allowing mistakes.”
“…will come if you are dedicated and proactive.”
“…personal, and means being prepared to demonstrate the capability to capture opportunities.”
“…comes through experience and memories and from being open-minded.”
Life is your teacher:
“Marriage has been one of the most influential experiences of Mr. A’s life.”
“Mr. B had no idea what he would be doing after high school; went to university to continue a career in swimming.”
“You can learn parenting from family, friends, school and your own childhood experiences. But in the end, every child is different and requires a different approach.”
“As the world changes, so does parenting.”
What we’ve learned:
“Do what you enjoy doing, love your family, and have some time for yourself. Keep learning throughout your life.”
“Make sure you’re prepared before you act. And check your work and make sure it’s the best that you can make.”
“Learn to appreciate the way light hits things, and look into the beauty of things.”
“There is a big world out there to discover.”
“It is important to balance learning about, and becoming part of new cultures, as well as perserving one’s own cutlural heritage.”
“There may be less time for learning as an adult, but you will always be learning something, whether you realize it or not.”
Thanks again to our devoted parent network for lending their time and wisdom, and in the end great power to this experience. I look forward to seeing you soon at Night of the Notables!
This year I have been entering the classroom-blogosphere alongside Paul Aitken, who as a district middle school humanities teacher had a hand in bringing along a few of the students who found their way into the high school gifted program I teach. Through Twitter, our blogs, and even – occaisionally, when nothing else will seem to work – our district email (side note: is email becoming obsolete? Or is its purpose merely changing? ie. Can’t send attachments with Twitter DMs), Paul and I have bounced ideas about the burgeoning nature of our class’ blogging off one another, sharing materials and experiences in the way that technology allows (even though Paul teaches less than ten minutes up the hill from me).
In his latest post, Paul has cited concerns (anxieties? hesitations?) about beginning his class’ blogs, chiefly:
- Getting the blogs off the ground
- Maintaining the rigors of academic writing
- Keeping things “civil” (Social responsibility)
- And generating ideas & prompts for writing
As my high school class is a few weeks ahead in the blogging regard, here is the comment I left last night on Paul’s blog. As it sums up my reflections on blogging in class along the lines of his concerns, I thought I would share it here:
Your points of hesitation resonate with my introduction of blogs with TALONS, Paul. But I think the students will impress you if you create an environment of awareness around the notion that all they do and say is public, and lasting.
I have found that using blogs as a forum for supplementary writing – more reflective andor representative of learning that pieces of formal writing such as creative pieces or essays – leads to a more confident sense of written voice (that I don’t think can help but be transferred to academic writing) and creates countless opportunities for team-building or a sense of empathy between classmates (citizenship, even, if applied to the larger sense of community). Something in the public nature of bloggin forces them to take both writing, and their behavior more seriously (though I agree, sixes – and perhaps the young student caught testing our school’s firewall this week – could be prone to some initial missteps).
As for topics, I have used blog posts as moments for reflection upon, or representation of learning. At times, students are told only to have a post on a topic from the week’s classes written by Friday (this week’s theme statement “informal essay;” other assignments are more directed (the post outlining each’s RSS subscriptions) with criteria as to use of images, and layout. With the use of Google Reader to syndicate the entire class’ blogging (as well as the stream of commenting for each of the class blogs, including mine), every student is tuned to the others’ work, and the conversation taking place around each of the varied topics. Again, the public nature of the work leads students away from working in isolation, and the tenor has been supportive – with the grade tens taking a leadership role in helping to define project criteria in the Eminent Person stuff, especially – and engaging, without requiring too much pushing.
I am looking forward to the community among the class blogs growing, and continuing even once the current students move on. Not only do the blogs connect the classroom to other learners and experts across the globe, but the hub of a class blog remains a community open to its alumni if they chose to lend their presence. But it all does move slowly – I have only recently streamlined our blogging to be able to think of it as having just “begun.” The fact that it is being built up will probably only strengthen its eventual delivery.
I look forward to seeing it get rolling!
And these paintings are not landscape paintings. Because there aren’t any landscapes up there, not in the old, tidy European sense, with a gentle hill, a curving river, a cottage, a mountain in the background, a golden evening sky. Instead there’s a tangle, a receding maze, in which you can become lost almost as soon as you step off the path. There are no backgrounds in any of these paintings, no vistas; only a great deal of foreground that goes back and back, endlessly, involving you in its twists and turns of tree and branch and rock. No matter how far back in you go, there will be more. And the trees themselves are hardly trees; they are currents of energy, charged with violent colour.
Death by Landscape Margaret Atwood
During this past week’s study of short stories, our class has delved into more than one class-that-runs-past-the-bell in dissection of Canadian works, Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape,” and Alistair MacLeod’s “To Every Thing There is a Season.” Beginning with the discussion of the each story’s basic literary pieces – its characters, conflict, plot, setting and point of view – the class has ranged in conversation of the Canadian identity, the nature of growing up, the importance of stories, and literature’s ability to illuminate who we are as individuals, citizens and members of the human race. Beginning today though our class began to merge this conversation with the online – technology supplementing face to face instruction, dialogue and interaction – and moved to the students’ blogs, with each student posting a defense of their theme statement for MacLeod’s Cape Breton Christmas novella “To Everything There is a Season.”
But this is only one way our class is engaged in social networking and online dialogue. The means of this digital conversation:
Hyperlinked writing is the most powerful form of writing.
So begins Wesley Fryer’s excellent (linked) post in defense of the importance of learning to write using hyperlinks. Citing Shelly Blake-Plock’s hosting of the talk by Jay Rosen, entitled The Ethic of the Link.
Check it out:
When I first started using Wikis in my classes two years ago, I stressed repeatedly the density of text created with hyperlinks – especially as a means of ‘pointing’ to supporting evidence or details (even to humourous effect). I agreed – and agree still – with Rosen, when he says that good blogging means “giving you more than you expect, every single time you visit my blog. More knowledge than you expected. More links than you bargained for. More nuance. More depth. More education.” Loaded words.
At the time – long before I came upon this video, or read this New York Times article, brimming with linked supporting detail – I even went so far as to produce this essay rife with linked details and post it on my class’ SharePoint site:
“Through music the passions enjoy themselves.” Frederick Nietzsche
Every so often it seems that culture converges, or coalesces out of its myriad pieces into movements which are capable of shaping history. One need look no further than the progression of modern pop music to appreciate that the will of the masses is able to correct the derivations of the few with regularity.
When rhythm and blues invaded nineteen fifties white America, the influence was not to be denied — despite television producers not showing Elvis beneath the waist — and the commercial jingles of the day were replaced with the birth of rock and roll, in Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, to name a few.
The fifties though, were still dominated by the conservative parentage that had seen the world at war, and perhaps the Great Depression, and there was wide distrust of this Rock and Roll, which seemed to make their children crazy. The hysteria spread across the continent, and the Atlantic to England where was born the decade of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who (also Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and always, out there on the margin, Bob Dylan). What followed was a decade in which culture converged around an idea (whether opposition to the war in Vietnam, or ideas of free love and an eternal now), and a new generation had asserted its will to change the (music) world.
These upwellings in culture are irrevocably followed by periods under which, now that the passion of the movement has died down, the diverse motivations of people displaces the harmony of events which led the series of changes in the first place. During the seventies – after the Beatles broke up – rock and roll became the deluxe, glossy likes of the Bee Gees, and the Eagles. This is not meant in any disrespect to the many accomplishments of Don Henley and the Brothers Gibb; it merely cannot be said that the seventies were noticeably shaken by the wizardry of Hotel California. This distinction, that of culture overtaking the system which precedes it, belongs to the birth of punk rock. Patti Smith, the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash managed what the blues had managed two decades earlier: to give voice to those who did not feel represented in the dominant culture, those who always outnumber the few at the helm in times when culture seems to sleep, waiting to wake in revolution.
The seventies succumbed to the gloss and pop of the eighties, when Michael Jackson reigned – no, really, he did once – alongside Motley Crue, and Poison (though it can be said that Guns and Roses remained reasonably faithful to the mold cast of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin) in the arena of rock. When it seemed that radio-friendly had finally ruined the prospect of music ever even being good again, in the eyes of many purists, Nirvana and Seattle exploded with grunge, and the modern apostles of rock in Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder and the late Kurt Cobain. Only recently, indie rock, building on the permeation of the Internet as familiar language and environment among youth culture, has “rescued” music from the likes of N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls.
Even at this very moment, as major record labels find themselves consolidating and merging with one another like victims of a shipwreck clinging to the warmth of others, the collective will of the music-loving masses, in the wealthy populism of the Hype Machine, Limewire, BitTorrents and a host of other peer-to-peer music sharing websites, stand on the steps of the Bastille, beginning to write the opening salvos in the New Music. And the precursor this revolution in technology has given music carries more weight in the exponentially shrinking world young citizens will grow to inherit. Those who will thrive in the new world will be those who are able to assimilate the divergent voices amidst the vastness of the present’s static: The Guru of Google?
I teach a two-year gifted program which covers the curriculums of English 9, 10 and 11* (if there are capabable learners), Social Studies 9 and 10 1, Math 9, 10 & 11* (again, with the proper students), Science 9 and 10, as well as ministry-mandated Career and Personal Planning, and extra-elective Leadership 11 2.
I have taught in this highly flexible and interdisciplinary environment for two years now, and have found great traction in the use of various technologies to further the aims of our program’s bedrock Betts Autonomous Learner Model, which espouses the following:
The purpose of the model is to teach gifted learners strategies for and attitudes toward independant learning.
In bits and pieces I have seen the power of collaborative work in the classroom, from Wikis to develop class notes, discussion boards to facilitate peer editing, and publishing on Wikibooks to integrating the vastness of web information and access to each individual’s area of passion or expertise. At the same time I have come to unify my own pursuits in lifelong learning around the totems of RSS, social networks and my classroom and school, where my own learning – as well as that of my students – is fueled with the cooperation and expertise of a continuous conversation about methodology and practice.
At its core our gifted program harnasses the power of community into its ethos and structure, creating an environment where teachers (facilitators, under the Betts description) and students (learners) are each striving for growth and knowledge on a daily basis. Key to the facilitator’s strength in creating such an environment, where learners are empowered to pursue their individual curiosities, is the notion of transparent learning. Past incarnations of our school’s gifted students program have seen teachers participating in Night of the Notables events, and my teaching-partner and I routinely and candidly participate in class discussions of group processes and creative writing exercises used as reflections upon our own learning with the class. Though it is unlikely that Betts foresaw today’s development in network-science which has emerged, the model clearly sees exponential potential in expanding the learning environment beyond the classroom that is facilitated with the read-write web.
The shape of a social network helps determine a network’s usefulness to its individuals. Smaller, tighter networks can be less useful to their members than networks with lots of loose connections (weak ties) to individuals outside the main network. More open networks, with many weak ties and social connections, are more likely to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members than closed networks with many redundant ties. In other words, a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities. A group of individuals with connections to other social worlds is likely to have access to a wider range of information. It is better for individual success to have connections to a variety of networks rather than many connections within a single network. Similarly, individuals can exercise influence or act as brokers within their social networks by bridging two networks that are not directly linked (called filling structural holes).
The power of social network analysis stems from its difference from traditional social scientific studies, which assume that it is the attributes of individual actors—whether they are friendly or unfriendly, smart or dumb, etc.—that matter.
Clarence Fisher writes eloquently in response to the above:
What does this look like in a classroom? The smaller, tight social network mentioned at the beginning of the piece would be the students immediately present in the single space of one classroom. Certainly a useful network and one able to share it’s knowledge. But as it states in the quote: “a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities.” This network needs to grow and expand in order for new ideas and opportunities to emerge. Our students need their own networks outside of the immediate classroom and this often terrifies people involved with formal education. We are used to the role of being the finder and provider of all information in our spaces. We tend to see ourselves as the channel from which unknown information comes flowing into our classrooms.
But this is not right. We are not a network by ourselves. We are one node in a network.
Across a variety of units this year I had students undertake various pieces of networked learning: contacting experts across the globe, producing reliable web-information themselves, as well as collecting and investigating areas of interest in individualized and self-directed units where accountibility is placed most prominently at the peer or self level. But in a manner that has mirrored the stumbling development of my own personal learning network – which I see to some degree culminated in the creation of this blog – I have failed to see the means by which I might incorporate the diverse threads of classroom web tools and resolutely demolish the boundaries separating my stude- learners’ study of Socials and English 3, unifying not only each learner’s course of study in what shape up as busy semesters, but presenting each facilitator as truly that:
fa·cil·i·ta·tor Pronunciation: fə-ˈsi-lə-ˌtā-tər Function: noun : one that facilitates ; especially : one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision <the workshop’s facilitator kept discussion flowing smoothly> – Merriam Webster
As echoed in Bloom’s taxonomy (another model which extrapolated to include the prospects of the digital age suits the predictability required of a sound theory), the scope of ambition required to enable consistent higher-order questioning is attainable through the networked learning prized by many prominent educational technology thinkers. The notion, too, that the act of watching someone learn enables learning, is key to the practice sought in such learning environments. Beneath the disparate pieces of my implemenation of networked learning, there lies a unifying purpose in synthesis that enacts the varied philosophies which ground my current teaching and learning. As I look toward summer, and the prospect of my third year of gifted teaching, I hope to form the construct of a learning environment that begins and ends in the classroom, and the personal bonds which are forged through the nurturing of an immediate social network, but which is fueled through the connections available in the fostering of individual networks across the globe.
To this end I will be attempting to enact Clarence’s Five Ideas for Moving in this Direction:
1.) Give your students time to find connections with people and content around the globe. If we want them to be connected, we must make this a priority. They need time to search, to surf, and to read, watch and listen to content made by others. Don’t see this as “extra.”
2.) Have conferences with the students in your class on a regular basis about who they are reading, watching and listening to. Ask questions. “Why are you reading that? What have you learned from that source lately?”
3.) Help your students to find new nodes of connection. Make regular contact with other teachers and classes around the globe who are prosumers of digital content. Keep a blogroll, an email list, a delicious account, etc. Knowing your students better than anyone else, you can make suggestions to them about people they might enjoy reading.
4.) Allow your students to have individual networks they work with. This is vital. They all don’t need to be subscribing to and reading the same content. A larger, loose network will allow ideas from different parts of the globe to flow into your space. While as the teacher you certainly need to be ensuring that your students are safe online and reading information that is appropriate for your place, encourage them to add additional sources of information outside of those that you have officially sanctioned.
5.) Content comes to us in all sorts of modes. Don’t restrict yourself and your students to just reading blogs. Find news sources from around the world, YouTube channels, podcasts, flick groups and delicious accounts. Kids need to learn how to locate content in all of its forms and dig out the valuable pieces of it. They need to learn how to filter information more and schools need to filter it less.
- These first five are taught by myself. ↩
- The maths and sciences are evaluated by my teaching partner, while we share our observations of class activities and projects to evaluate Planning and Leadership ↩
- Why stop there, though: student-based personal network learning could unify the breadth and scope of all of our myriad sujects. ↩