Archive for April, 2010

There are two bloggers I want to introduce in this last 508 blogging assignment: Derek Sivers and Maria Andersen. Sivers’ is a former recording industry mogul who uses his blog to muse about the life lessons inherent in his daily events, relationships, and encounters. Anderson blogs about the teaching of math and is one of the change lights in an area of our profession that is still sadly mostly in the dark. They are both great role models and in some ways complementary.

Sivers became successful and famous and then gave his company away. Anderson is becoming successful and famous by giving her “best stuff” away. My journey towards becoming a self-directed educator is teaching me that the more you give away, the more others will want what you have. As I gain confidence in my own message and teaching model, and come to  believe that given the choice (unlike the trapped audiences of my 36 years’ worth of classrooms) other educators will want to hear what I have to say about change, technology, and education, I turn to Sivers for old-fashioned mentorship about finding my place as a leader and to Andersen for the challenge to rethink my role as a teacher and find a new place for myself in the profession.

Sivers does not qualify as an “educational” blogger. He reflects on the the events in his life and the life lessons they illustrate. He writes about big themes such as ideas, turning problems into opportunities, and fear ( a piece that should appeal to those among us who live in districts where one bad act becomes a reason to take away another freedom or shut down more access to the internet). I especially love the presentation (video below) about leadership and “followership” that he did at TEDTalks in Feb. 2010.

What Sivers says about these roles speaks directly to the conversations going on in this week’s discussion forum. To become a leader, you have to find your first follower. Every follower in turn has the potential to become a new leader by finding the next follower. If every teacher will find one colleague to follow and another to follow him/her into this movement towards change in education, then large scale and lasting use of technology will happen. The work will become exciting, energizing, and passion-lighting.

Gardner wrote (p. 166) that  “an educational system is not worthy of its name unless its representatives can clearly articulate what that system is striving to achieve and what it seeks to avoid or curtail.”  In “5 Minds” he mapped out a carefully detailed template for progress. First you learn everything there is to learn your area; then you integrate it all into a big picture; finally you’re ready to create. But still he wonders (p. 164): “How does one know that one is making progress …?”  Sivers says (2009-11-21) that “all this learning means nothing until you make something happen.” Sivers agrees that it’s important to keep feeding the brain with new information and perspectives, but for him the processes of learning and coming up with ideas have to be bundled with action and execution. They are not sequential steps but parallel activities. Life is not a nice line but a tangle knot.

Andersen is a woman like me who in 2007 had not yet become turned on to the world of technology tools or resources. Now she’s doing a doctorate on reform and innovation in math education. Her work is confirming what we have all known for some time — i.e. that math teachers have a pretty limited repertoire when it comes to helping students learn. We explain a lot and use co-operative learning to some extent but generally put little time or place little emphasis on inquiry- or project-based learning, on mastery, or on communications skills in math. This just isn’t good enough and she’s becoming one of a few leaders in this field who are collecting more and more followers. Like Sivers, Andersen reads widely and almost everything she reads becomes fuel for her mission to make the learning of math meaningful. Math teachers can’t just be good mechanics; we have to become big idea people who can help students learn to make connections, come up with ideas, turn them into actions, and communicate new understandings. These are the skills and attitudes Sivers believes are critical to become successful rather than sidelined in life

Sivers’ blog is found at: It’s minimalist — no bells or whistles — just a series of reflections. To find Andersen’ blog — Teaching College Math —  go to She’s all about activity and tweets and interesting tidbits and well thought out presentations about the nature of learning and math … math… math… math. Both of these writers challenge me to ‘revision’ my work even as I am leaving public school teaching, to act on ideas, to find my audience and to engage them by listening as much as by talking, to keeping feeding my own idea mill with new reading and conversations, and to reflect — always reflect — in order to keep moving forward. Mash the writing of these two up with Mitra’s work (which I’ve written about before) and the wisdom of Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot (video below) and you’ll see that as much as I say I’ve retired, the act of getting out of public school teaching is really a giant step away from complacency and towards renewal.

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I’d liked to have spent  some of my 36 teaching years working in a school where the value of respect and ethics were passed on from adults to young people and from  older students to younger ones through a program of service. Looking back on my experiences through post-retirement eyes, I am beginning to feel that school discipline (at which I was a master) is handled in too personal a way  to be an effective reinforcer of respectful or ethical behaviour.   Can respect be enforced through discipline? If by ‘respect’ we mean “deference” (, then the answer is yes. If on the other hand we mean “esteem” or “honour” ( or, as Gardner describes it,  a sort of social lubricant that “welcomes differences …  and seeks to work effectively with …’others’ ” (p.3) then then answer must be no.  Discipline’s aim is to ensure compliance which is very necessary for the smooth management of any class, but unless it is also tied to the the value of getting along and the importance of individual choices in the larger scheme of what’s good for all, then it will not further students’ appreciation of how essential these ideals are to making schools a place where all people feel they belong.

I’ve had in mind for some time that dealing with discipline problems by illustrating that disrespectful, unethical, or other harmful behaviour which in students’ minds targets one person in fact is not an isolated event and harms us all.  If I were the ‘queen of schools’, I’d  move towards a system where the consequences of misdeeds and misbehaviour were handled personally  (e.g.: you disrupt my class; I keep you in after school; the next time you make a decision about whether it’s worth it) to having students make things right through some sort of service to the school community.

I once had 3 students who acted quite badly in a computer lab that my class had been invited to use for a special project. Because of the physical arrangement of the hardware and furniture, it was easy for them to hide behind the monitors. They stole the little balls out of the mice; they wrote on the tables and generally left the equipment in such a state that the lab teacher rightly complained, and I had to figure out how to make these kids understand that their actions — which seemed so small and localized in their minds — had much larger ripples that would be felt through the school. Decisions had to be made about whether and who to let into the lab in future. Procedures had to be put in place to identify the user of each machine so future vandals could be easily tracked.  The machinery and tables that had been damaged had to be returned to usable condition before other students could use those stations.

I came up with the idea of having the offenders clean the school’s team bus on a future professional day — normally a day off for the student body. It was an awful job because each kid who stuck gum to the seat or left trash crammed between the seat and the wall or who’d spilled a drink on the floor thought of their act as a “one of.” They did not look at the bigger picture of how theses acts of one reverberate or accumulate and amplify in a community like a school. As a result the bus was in a deplorable state, and cleaning it was an awful job. As the boys worked, we talked about how the bus had gotten that way, and how small actions of individual people have a cumulative impact when they occur in a large community. I think by the end, they understood the concept.

This assignment asks for a project idea, however, and continuing in my role as ‘queen’, if  I wanted to give students an opportunity begin to really appreciate these values, I’d want to infuse schools with a tradition of service. I’ve had two ideas rolling around in my mind for a while both of which meet what Gardner’s test for “exemplary” models in that they “present a sharply chiseled view of [the] desired traits” (p. 160).  I’d like to do something with Kiva, and I’d like to find a way to have students in work on Habitat for Humanity projects.

Kiva is an organization which connects people in poor nations with people who have money — not necessarily a lot, but enough to make a difference in the life of someone who’s standard of living is far below that of the western world.  Kiva is a conduit for micro-loans. Giving up junk food, phone minutes, or dvd rentals for a month to put together $25 to lend might not mean much of a hole the pocket of  kid in Surrey (my former school district), but the sum saved in that way could give someone living in impoverished circumstances a chance to change their own and their children’s lives.

Involving students with Kiva would suit my former school perfectly for several reasons. First the school is located in a high income area where $25 (the minimum Kiva loan) doesn’t buy most students a hair cut or a week’s coffee at Starbucks. As well, our school periodically engages in ‘collecting and donating’ projects, but typically they don’t mean much because they are impersonal and the impact of the gifts cannot be imagined by kids who have so much. No relationship that develops with the recipients. Finally I like the idea of our students “growing” a pot of money that could be used to help others over and over. The students would be the fund administrators — choosing their loan recipients, tracking of flow of funds as old loans were repaid and new fund-raising efforts added to the pot, and publicizing their work and it’s results to the school as a whole. They would have to develop a means to ensure that future Learning Center students knew how much of an impact these small donations had made over time. This would foster a tradition of service at the school together with the sort of empathy Gardner says (p. 107) is needed to engender truly respectful and ethical attitudes.

How would it work? Because we offer completely individualized programs at the Learning Centre, I’d tie the project to a unit in the Planning 10 and Math 11E courses. This would ensure continued participation over time because there is a steady stream of students taking those courses. Working with Kiva could be offered as a replacement for an existing unit. Because the students work at their own pace, as soon as they started Planning 10 or Math 11E, they’d become part of the micro-loan management group. They would learn to use accounting software, to engage in school and Surrey-wide publicity, to fundraise, to develop an awareness of the living, working, and economic conditions in the home countries of the people they were considering for loans. They would maintain a Kiva project wiki and blog as well as  find ways to communicate with their loan clients. In grade 10, they would do a unit which would have them reflecting on the impact of their actions on others. The 11’s would follow up with a unit on borrowing money — looking a credit cards, pay day loan places, banks, and buy now pay later schemes — to understand the potential effect on their own lives of taking on debt and having to repay it.

Where the Kiva projects would be aimed at giving students a sense of the impact of their actions and choices in a global community, giving them a chance to earn a Work Experience course credit by working on a Habitat for Humanities build would bring the lesson home to where they themselves live. it would not only give them a chance to pick up basic house construction skills and try working in a trade, it would help them to see the impact of giving in a real way. There’s nothing more powerful than being able to drive by the house that you helped build and be able to share the experience of assisting a homeless person create a home of their own. It would also put real faces and stories to the word “homeless” as the house recipients as the students would be working along side the people who for whom the house was being built. In a world — and an educational system — where many young people feel powerless and come to believe that the actions and decisions of individuals don’t amount to much, they would be able to see how much can happen when people work together in a constructive and giving way.

Digital media would be a big part of both of these projects. The Kiva website is the means to connect the people seeking loans with those who have money to lend. Students could be required to do further research on the locations of the loan applicants they are considering and keep ongoing progress reports in Google Earth to illustrate to their peers and the community as a whole the far reaching impact of their work. Habitat is a more hands-on project, but I’d have each student keep a digital scrapbook or portfolio to illustrate their own skill development and the progress of the project. Finally all participants would be required to multimedia presentations illustrating what they learned about the value of respect and ethics through this work and how they are helping build a culture of service in the school.

Respect, ethics, caring about others, understanding and appreciating the impacts of your actions — these are all values that are better learned through living rather than taught through discipline or enforcing expectations.  These kinds of projects, I think, can make a real difference.


References (nd). Respect. Retireved on April 21, 2010 from

Frontline/ World |Kiva |PBS. (10 April, 2007). Retrieved on April 21, 2010 from YouTube.

Gardner, Howard. (2008). Five minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Matt & Jessica Flannery (10 August, 2007). Retrieved on April 21, 2010 from YouTube.

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How many posters can you actually put up on the classroom walls? How often does an outside audience ever see students’ work? How can you confound parents’ attempts to ‘help with’ their children’s projects?
If these questions interest you, or if you’re looking for a more engaging and interactive way to present multimdia content — one that will encourage students to explore find their own pathway and make their own connections — then Glogster(edu) is a Web 2.0 tool you should explore.

After a lot of dithering and some unexpected family issues here “down under,” I finally decided to use this week’s Glog assignment as a follow-up for a workshop I gave on Friday to a group of Taylors Lakes Primary School (Prep & K-6) teachers. You won’t be surprised that I used the Sugata Mitra video I referred to in an earlier blog as the Glog’s center piece. My “structure is (was?) all” teacher-mind is still reeling from Mitra’s videos clips and statistics. I don’t recall when I my fundamental understanding about teaching was so profoundly shaken in a mere 20 minutes.

I realized about the 5th time I watched the video that, although I seldom turned the control of learning over to  students that way in my classes,  I have been moving that very direction in my pro-d work with other teachers. I am convinced that if you put teachers into a social setting and give them intriguing tools to play with and explore, they will reconnect with their passion to learn, and they’ll experience the delight that students feel when their “creating minds” (Gardner, p. 81) are engaged. Anyway as the workshop progress, the energy grew. As happened with the children in the video, the participants began to cluster in groups around those who emerged as the leaders. These ‘leaders’ did not take over but had simply figured out certain tools first and shared with others what they had done. Again as happened in the video, the people behind them made suggestions and even though they may have watched more than they played, they left feeling the tools they’d made lots of progress.

It can be so easy for us teachers to remain frozen by our own fears about not being able to make technology tools work. I am “device-phobic”. I don’t carry a cell phone; I’ve never used an i-Pod. I’m the last in a workshop to put my finger on a SmartBoard. Others, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with hardware, but find it equally challenging to try the tools that I demonstrate. They have what they feel are good reasons for holding back, but the more we let these fears put limits on our “creating minds,” the more we put truth to students’ doubts that formal education can deliver on it’s promise to develop life-long learners.

I once had a student who told me that she was terrified of going on the roller coaster at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) but that she feared even more being left out of all the fun and being thought a ‘wimp’ by her friends. One morning she decided she had to get over this,  so she took the long bus ride from Surrey to Hastings Street and bought herself a ticket to ride.

After the 6th time around the circuit, she finally began to enjoy the excitement and the feeling of living life on the edge. It’s not always that kids are fearless in the face of new experiences. I think it’s they bring to learning that they feel is important a sense of determination which carries them through even the most difficult and frustrating moments. A student who will skip school rather than face a math test he thinks he’s going to fail will take the test for his driver’s license 3 times so he can get behind the wheel. Another who lives in terror of being asked a question in front of the class will spend countless hours in the skateboard park trying and failing at tricks and moves in the company of other boarders. When curiosity and perceived value outweigh fear and hesitation, even the least talented among us will try and keep on trying until we gain gain some mastery. From that point we can move into creativity and passionate involvement. That’s where the greatest rewards a waiting.

This glog is going sit at the top of the “Australian Connections” page in my workshop wiki. I’ve included some read/view/listen material to excite educators’ passions and to give them good scientific evidence to add plenty of value to this work. There are also several hands-on tools they can try right away to get those creative ideas bubbling up. Finally there are two “assignments” linked from this glog. (I had to resort to two because there is a size limit in Discovery). Given that I can’t be here in Australia for follow up with the teachers at Taylors Lakes, these can become a focal point to help the Friday participants coalesce into a ‘support and encourage’ network at their school. I’ve added Glogster to the short list of tools workshop participants will be able to try out when we’re together because it definitely falls into the “easy to manage with younger students” category.

The standards required in this assignment are found in the first Discovery Assignment Builder (Australian Connections PART 1). All resources used in the assignment builders were cited there and can be viewed when one enters as a teacher. The Glog resources have been posted in Easy Bib and linked to from the Glog.

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I was going to write a long piece about social bookmarking but 2 unrelated events have connected to make me throw that plan out the window.

The first is that I’ve been invited by a teaching friend here in Melbourne to do a tools presentation for some of the staff at the elementary (in Australia ‘primary’ meaning first) school, and most of the stuff I normally show is too advanced for younger students. I went searching for some cool tools to add to my Big Returns wikithat would appeal to teachers who have little or no experience online and came across my new pick for this week.  I admit I was totally inspired by the statement that the people behind these tools have posted on their website:

Yes — it’s poorly translated but the spirit of the message for me embodies the passion and excitement in children’s “creating minds” and their fascination with their ability to see the impact of their actions. Kids stand in the way of a bright light and make their shadows move. They touch a Smartboard and whiz the images around. They put something up online and people respond. They are reassured of their presence in the world and of their power to have an impact on that world. Their actions have visible and tangible reactions!! Their thoughts reverberate!! They count!!!

The second event was my finding this video by Sugata Mitra. If you’re in 508 with me right now, you may have already read about him and watched the video link in my Moodle work this week. In 1999 Mitrat put a computer into a hole in a wall in an urban slum in India because he was CURIOUS about what would happen. Zoom ahead several years and he has evolved a new way of looking at the power of children to organise themselves into learning communities when they are curious and presented with an opportunity to learn. I can’t tell you how much of an impact it’s had on me. In fact I have written these people to see if there’s a role for me in their program somewhere, and I’ll be showing this to  the teachers at Taylors Lakes PS tomorrow.

Interestingly, many of the adults I speak to say they are self-taught when it comes to learning the Web 2.0 tools they use. The PLN’s we form are very much like the fluid self-organizing groups of the children in Mitra’s video. There’s a leader who connects with a tool; others cluster around excitedly as they are shown how to manipulate the computer and then want to try it themselves. There is also a group who hang back,watch, and comment from the sidelines, but eventually all absorb the key ideas and learn. As Mitra found, it didn’t matter whether the kids were doers or lurkers, they all got the same scores on the tests. What did matter was that the learning occurred in a group.

Yvonne, my friend, is worried that there are not more forward-looking staff members in her school. To her I say — we’re going to put the tools in a hole in the wall and let the early adopters come and play. The curiosity of the others will eventually draw them in, and when they discover how simple many of these are to manage and how much fun they can have with their students,  they’ll become part of the circle of learning.

The secret that Mitra has uncovered about learning is that engaging curiosity, providing the opportunity for unstructured discovery, ensuring the target group will group together, enabling them to participate at whatever their level of comfort,  and then stepping back and letting them go — those elements in combination will be enough for even adults to overcome the flight response and  tendency to self-censor —  thereby reconnecting with the delight in playing to learn.

Here then are my “online resource(s) …. that facilitate connections and sharing within and/or beyond the classroom” from PimPamPum.  They all essentially provide kids with a way to link words with images drawn from Flickr Creative Commons. When the story is done, it can be saved and then embed code is provided so it can be displayed on a webpage or in a  blog or wiki. There is no registration required that I can see. The only drawback is that there is no way to link back to the source of the original image and so no way to credit the original artists. HOwever, given that one searches for image with tags, I suspect it’s possible for students to take original photos, upload them to a class site in Creative Commons, tag them uniquely, and then bring them into their own stories.

I’m going to show you 3 of PimPamPum’s tools (all images below link directly to the tools):

  • Bookr — enables kids to create and embeddable book with pages that turn using images and their own words.
  • Bubblr — is for adding speech bubbles to Flickr CC images and creating a “cartoon” strip.
  • Phrasr — matches images to words in sentence or poem and creates a visual representation of what the students type.

These are tools that even younger children can use. If they are learning their letters and can find them on the keyboard, they can add story lines or fill speech bubbles. Particularly with students who are struggling with reading, the power of being able to select just the right image and add meaningful words gives them motivation to learn words that are part of their own environment and to share their stories with family, classmates, and friends. I wonder what Sylvia Ashton Warner who was one of the earliest proponents of helping students learn to read by having them make their own books using their own vocabulary would have thought of this tool.

There are a few others tools on this website that are worth a look: Zoomap which allows you to put an image and text bubble anywhere on a map of the world,  and Memry which creates a concentration game out of images, and Macanet which seems to allow you to select a background image and insert other cut-out images over top of it.

If you’re looking for more writing tools than you can find in my wiki — here’s another: that looks tremendous.

Finally — don’t be put off by the fact that the PimPamPum blog is in Spanish. You can use Google Translator to go from the Spanish to stilted, but understandable English. You can even help out by contributing a better translation! Enjoy.

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