Happy Trails

I’ve have been drafting a lot of posts recently and publishing none. I am becoming more critical of my own work and am making a conscious effort to ensure the pieces I create are high quality. Their are a few forces driving this process.

  1. It started with “The Cult of the Amateur” By Andrew Keen, his vision reaffirmed that there is a lot of content to weave through because many are creating lousy work.
  2. I joined the 366Photos project, and have been developing my eye for good images. I am finding that this skill is moving outside photography, and sharpening my awareness of detail and function. This is part of what D’arcy was alluding to as ‘mindful seeing’.
  3. Through participation in a writing course, the last of my degree, I am learning about the art of this skill. As I read and listen, my perception of good writing has changed. The course has given me an opportunity to examine my writing. Through these enhanced eyes I am expecting more of myself as a writer.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to listen to Stuart McLean, of CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, speak to a large conference of South Saskatchewan teachers. I was eager for this because I’ve been a fan of his radio show and stories for a few years. He started with couple stories and wrapped with a Q & A.

The interesting part was that the teachers primarily asked questions about his fame, about his experience in the ‘Biz’, not so much about learning or teaching. I was near the front of the auditorium and asked Stuart about inspiring our students to be better writers and storytellers. He referred back to the time when he taught at Ryerson.

He spoke about having patience with his students and their work, he spoke of collaboration, about re-doing pieces of work. Stuart alluded to a Mountain of Mastery parable. He said, students have to reach the pinnacle of the mountain to know what it means to achieve mastery (sorry if this is too Harry Wong for you). He went on to say that instructors are too often batting students off the Mountain of Mastery by rushing through projects and not aiming goals high. While this happened in other classes, his approach was to wait at the top of the mountain as the great sage. On the way up the mountain, Stuart encouraged students through drafting, conversation, and reflection. The writers worked together to progress one another in their writing endeavors. Often some would do 10 drafts before finally achieving the true brilliance the piece deserved.

Following this presentation, I caught up with Stuart McLean in the Lobby. I introduced my self and thanked him for his insight. I had been hoping for an autograph and he obliged, I thought his comment was most appropriate, he wrote “Happy Trails”.

As I climb my Mountain of Mastery, I will continue to look down to see where I have been, look up to see where I am going and look inside to see where I am. This awareness will ensure “Happy Trails”.

Thoughts on Blogging

With any writing, the writer needs a purpose. One could write to persuade, to entertain or to inform. I find that each of these are the purposes that drive my writing. I use this blog as a space to reflect on own practice, to share tools/resources, and connect ideas that I read. I consider my audience, which I assume is mostly other connected teachers. What will they want to read about? I select tidbits of information or teaching resources to write about that interest me. Sometimes, I blog about something that I feel needs more coverage, more publicity, and other times I focus on a certain tool and how it can be used to shift classroom learning.

Personal blogging is only one part of my online activity. I am more active micro-blogging and conversing via Twitter. As I participate in/with online communities of teachers I am led to find the best models of current practices. A week doesn’t pass that I am not sitting in on a live seminar with other like minded individuals. Through other blogs, I am connected to new ideas, new teachers, new philosophy, new issues. Twitter and RSS pull my community together. I build online relationships, and discover folks with common interests. As in real life, one can not be buds with everyone, and although I follow many, my circle of major influences tightens. It is through twitter & RSS, that I strike up or follow many rich discussions that drive my philosophy and thinking about teaching and learning.

Teaching a Friend

Tonight I sat down with my friend and colleague, Paul Bazin. Recently I have been pushing Paul to embrace the web 2.0 world and since September he has taken some great strides. Already he manages a blog, We have set sail to learn, within his classroom. We have chatted about bringing our classes together through blogging and perhaps online blog mentorship in some capacity.

As Paul helped me learn how to use my MacBook more efficiently, I helped him become more familiar with his blog, introduced him to twitter, del.icio.us, a variety of links and Google Reader. It was such a good learning experience for me to take some time to walk a colleague through these tools. It helped that Paul was keen to learn and had started his own web 2.0 exploration prior to our visit. This is how change happens, impact one teacher at a time if you have to. Slowly more will come to see the benefits that result from technology implementation.

On a side note: I have only ever tackled photo editing once before. Today our discussion at the Digital Internship Seminar pushed me to try out picnik and phixr. My verdict, they do the same thing but picnik seems more friendly.

Email Issue Leads to Parent Communication

I posted this in the discussion forum of the Digital Internship Project

I was naive in thinking that all Grade 6’s would have email. Turns out only about 60% do. The division I am in has it in their policy that students in grade 4 and over should have email addresses but this is slow in it’s implementation. As a result, I have been contemplating how to get them all addresses and decided to send them all home with the assignment of emailing me if they could. Perhaps I should of created them all gmail accounts? I think that I will create accounts for different applications in the future.

(One mistake in the situation above is that I gave them my teacher gmail account rather than my division email. I am going to ensure that all further correspondence takes place through my school account.)

But I digress, a couple days later a mother has written a note in an agenda stating that “her daughter is too young to have email.” uhoh, road bump. I have this floating in my head all day trying to think about solutions, when another student asks if it’s ok to use his Dad’s email account. a-ha solution.

This is just a minor situation and I have only had brief contact with a couple parents. But tonight I am going to compose a note to go home introducing the blog. And hopefully once my students start blogging we’ll have the parents in for a show and tell. I will talk briefly about blogging and rationale, but I also want to ensure parents of their child’s safety.

I am looking for suggestions and stories of experience from each of you reading this. What would put in a letter to go home? What would show or say to parents? Of course everyone’s situation is a bit different, but this is a major issue to be addressed.

Out of the Gate

School started on August 30th. First couple days were very introductory with my Gr. 5/6 split, we got to know each other and the procedures of the class. Then by Monday, our class had been switched to a straight Grade 6 and our class population only decreased by one. Now there are only 18 little darlings under my guidance. I am excited because I don’t have any experience with the grade 6 curriculum so this gives me a chance to expand upon my K-5 elementary University program. If anybody has any tips on middle years activities or resources lead me to them please.

I have been a little nervous about where and how I was going to implement tech tools. But slowly it is happening. I set up the class blog and have used it to link the students to math games and endangered species information throughout the week but hadn’t really explained what it was or how we are going to use it. On Friday, I finally got our schools sole projector set up in the computer lab and introduced the class to Thinking Exploring Learning. They were the best behaved they had been all week, they ate it up. They, not I, can wait to get started. It was my intent to familiarize them with the blog through commenting and eventually take some time for them to create their own blog. This is all fine and dandy, until I realized that half of them don’t have email addresses yet and they are required for commenting on this blog. Little bump in the road. Their homework for the weekend was to try to set up an account, so far only two students have emailed me their address.  I think we will have to take some time to do set up email this week.

On the positive, my co-operating teacher really thinks that this blogging idea is great. This is a relief for me because it would be difficult for me to implement this tool if I didn’t have her in my corner. We both saw a difference with the class in the computer lab, they were so into it.  I am convinced that the use of this tool will reinforce the key learnings that we have over the semester.  They want to be on the computers, they recognize the computer as a valuable tool.

It is all so Clear in my Crystal Ball

I am so new it is hard to totally visualize my future classes. There is a game of foosball jostling within my cranium. Weighing pro’s and con’s of different approaches and ideas and tools.

Going into my internship (Aug-Dec) I have been thinking about how to start. How am I going to infuse web 2.0 tools and technology into my students learning? Throughout this course we have been shown a lot and introduced to wide array of individuals. I’ve built a network of like minded individuals, classmates, new acquaintances and mostly folks I have never met. My interaction within my network of educators will continue to introduce new ideas, philosophies and guide my thinking. This network has became my base, it stabilizes me and focuses my ramblings. It will continue to guide continued learning and development. My participation is the greatest professional development course I have ever taken.

I am now conscious of my own digital citizenship. By developing my students awareness of their own digital citizenship, their real citizenship will be positively influenced. Our world is revolving around technology with little chance of slowing, our students need to be exposed to it. It is important that students understand that their online self is a direct reflection of them self and they have to be responsible for their own web use and safety. With digital citizeship an underlying theme of everything we do online, students will learn to identify and compare poor examples.

I intend to reach curricular goals, objectives and outcomes through the inclusion of technology. Technology use will just be part of my teaching, not just some special 40 minutes where we play games. I will be able to open the window to the world for my students. I will show them different places, how to analyze the world at a higher level, we will write for audiences that reach far and wide. I want to ensure that learning is meaningful, relevant and happens throughout students lives, not just in the classroom. Technology will aid my ability to do this.

I look forward to working through the future challenges of the ‘digital divide’, policy making, digital citizenship and whatever else is slung our way. I am going to commit myself to my students and their learning. I will learn when to guide and when to step back to let their brains pump. There will be stumbling blocks and I will get lots wrong, but I will reflect and strive for improvement. Technology will be part of my personal teaching arsenal of strengths, along with my appreciation of the natural world, my enthusiasm for learning.

I will be a facilitator, a soundboard, a mediator , a mentor, an editor, a leader, a planner, molder, a guide, a learner. I will provide my students with opportunities to think, to reason, to explore, to learn.

Interning will give me an opportunity to focus on the inclusion of technology within learning experiences. I am lucky to be starting my career with these and new tools, rather then trying to make the transition down the road. Not exactly sure what is going to happen in a year when I get my own class but I will be ready to dirty. I feel like I will be able to make the learning real. My students will be connected and exposed to high levels of thought and expertise, more than I could ever offer them alone. When I look in the crystal ball, I see myself with a little more experience and know how, maybe with some battle wounds but definitely with a smile on my face.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/16152133@N00/455286001 – This fellow has some amazing photo’s

Recognition

Yesterday was a good day, I am no longer writing for my personal audience but for stranger’s and new friends. Recognition happened twice yesterday.

First, it was awesome to be introduced on the stuff nobody told us (a project by Christian Long and Damien Bariexca) blog yesterday. Though stuff nobody told us is still in it’s infancy, it has very relevant posts for new teachers or those that need a refresher. Their blog is looking for new teachers in their first 1-3 years to comment and encourage further development and dialog. So check it out.

Then later in the day, Clarence Fisher, an established blogger and all star teacher whom I have been following and idolizing, referenced me in his post on twitter in the classroom. That floored me,I was grinning ear to ear all night.

This feels like a huge accomplishment. All of a sudden, my writing and thoughts are being appreciated by many. My network is growing. I feel the sense of pride and ownership that my students will feel when their work is published and recognized.

Thanks everyone, I know this will happen more in the future and I won’t write about each instance, but right now I am just an amateur in a big world and this was extremely meaningful to me.