Monday, March 31, 2008

Vision of the Future?

Some thoughts on Web2.0 and how it's helping to professionalize this thing called teaching. Check it.

Jeremy Wagstaff, author of the Loose Wire Blog, just came out with another worthwhile article about the impact that technology is having on education. Don't think that he's saying anything that the edublogoworld isn't, but the fact that Jeremy is picking up on these vibes says a lot. His category cluster on the right hand side of his blog shows that he's NOT part of edublogoland. The largest categories seem to be Software, Security, Internet and Journalism (with dabblings in Luddism and Voting).

You can check out the full article at this link, or you can go right to his blog here.

Especially liked this section:

Then there are issues with overcoming the traditions and entrenched interests of academia, such as the concerns some lecturers have about their livelihoods if they put all their material online.

Mr. Wiley's response: Adjust to the new reality. He points to the almost "pop star" popularity of some who have posted lecture videos online. Some have boosted class attendance and have raised interest in their courses, while others have overhauled and improved material in the process of submitting it. "What it has done is to expose teaching to peer review," he says (emphasis added).

Peer Review. Yeah, that sounds fun. A bit scary and daunting, but also full of potential and reward.

Right now, it's the universities that are being directly affected by this. I think that secondary education is still about five years away from facing tough competition from the web. Now, I'm not saying that what's happening on the web right now isn't more interesting than our classrooms. Sad to say that for my students, Japanese prank vidoes on Youtube and "playing Facebook" (to use their wording) is highly engaging, much more so than my mini-lessons on grammar and vocabulary and plot structure.

I'm thinking more that it's not likely that you'll have an activity in class about the development of Ponyboy's character in "The Outsiders" and then a student will walk into class the next day and tell you that your lesson wasn't as good as the one they found online last night. If you think that example sounds far-fetched, go check out MIT's OpenCourseWare site. Don't believe that a freshman could might get so fed up with the lousy lecturer in their Intro to Chem course that they might turn there to find out how to pass their exam? And you better believe that dan's graphing stories lesson is only a long day of work away from becoming a stand-alone awesome intro to linear time graphs.

Speaking of dan, and of peer review, if you're a teacher and you've made it thus far and your name isn't dan or damian, check out this conversation at dan meyer's blog. Want to start that peer review stuff? Raise your hand!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cute Cats and Porn

Two seemingly disparate elements of the read/write web that are connected in a wonderful article I just read through.

Can't take any credit for finding it. Decided to clean out some unread items at Bionic Teaching, and this post by Tom Woodward led me to this fascinating article by Ethan Zuckerman about the ways that Web 2.0 technologies are being used to support activism.

Here's the excerpt about porn:

Based on my Tripod experience, I’d offer the hypothesis that any sufficiently advanced read/write technology will get used for two purposes: pornography and activism. Porn is a weak test for the success of participatory media - it’s like tapping a mike and asking, “Is it on?” If you’re not getting porn in your system, it doesn’t work. Activism is a stronger test - if activists are using your tools, it’s a pretty good indication that your tools are useful and usable.

Cute Cats?

(referring to getting a site blocked) This is a good thing if you’re an activist. Most Tunisians don’t identify as activists and might not be engaged with politics. But, like Americans and Europeans, they’re interested in seeing cute cats being adorable online. When the government blocks DailyMotion, it impacts a much wider swath of Tunisians than those who are politically active. Cute cats are collateral damage when governments block sites. And even those who could care less about presidential shenanigans are made aware that their government fears online speech so much that they’re willing to censor the millions of banal videos on DailyMotion to block a few political ones.

What I'm taking away from this is another reminder that there's a lot of fascinating / eventful stuff happening on the web now. Youtube videos work as a great little reward for a class that has worked hard all lesson, but to be able to receive instantaneous updates from an Egyptian activist via Twitter? That's mind-bendingly / perspective changingly cool.

Thinking out loud, I wonder - How can I get the kids I'm working with NOW, the students who really need language development and organizational skills more than anything else, connected to what else is going on around the world? How can I share with them the excitement of being a part of the global picture while not sacrificing the skills development they desperately need? If they can't write a decently structured paragraph, they can't participate in an online discussion. If they are always losing their homework / notebooks / passwords / thumb drives, how can they be organized enough to have a cohesive online presence?

(I also wonder what the heck is going on with me that all of a sudden I am posting so much more. Not like it was a plan or anything...not like I have more free time now, actually much more involved & overextended at work and at play. Mayhaps it is a result of me actually sticking to them New Year's Resolution-like thoughts...)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thanks Damian

Okay, well I think this ain't the first time that Damian has tagged me in one of them memes. The thing is, I'm not that into memes. For one, I tend to not get "tagged" often cuz there's really only two blogs that I've bothered to do more than lurk on - his, Apace of Change, and dan meyer's fantastic math blog. I have an old-fashioned professional learning network - people I trust whom I work with / have worked with in the past.

And for another, I tend to intensely dislike memes. They remind me waaaaay too much of the email forwards I get from middle schoolers. "IF U DON'T SEND THIS ON TO 30 PPL IN THE NEXT TEN MINUTES YOU WILL NEVER MEET THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE!!!1!" If you don't get those email forwards, consider yourself blessed.

However there are some other relevant facts: it's 10pm, I've got lots of emails yet to send tonight, and I'm wired on caffeine. So let's start knitting our PASSION QUILT!

Start with some copy & paste la...

Passion Quilt Meme Rules:
1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

So...I kind of ignored the directions. Here's the word I chose to symbolize what I think I think about education at the moment:


You should check out what that word looks like in different fonts. Personally I picked a bunch at random and gain pleasure from viewing baby kruffy, constantia and pussycat.

However...I am one of those guys who follows the rules, as much as I like to pretend to be a rebel. So here's a picture I like that I found from searching for "construction" in flickr cc:

I picked construction because...well, did you see what it looks like all-caps in constantia? And that picture is nice. Great snapshot of a journey...incomplete, noisy, smelly, can't see the end...kinda like life, ennit? And construction involves power tools, which are pretty much amazing.

What does it have to do with teaching...well, there's the whole thing that kids have to "construct" their own meaning out of the lessons. I don't buy into that approach wholesale, because in philosophically pure constructivism there's no place for skills development.

And that's a huge part of my job, the skillz. I'm there to help my students hone their skills - linguistic, organizational, social, emotional. I'm working with them to build the strategies they'll have to fall back on throughout the rest of their life. It's like we're on the same construction team, building a classroom full of gleaming high rise skyscrapers.

Another reason I picked "construction" is that I am fascinated with how a school organization is built. It's always interested me to learn how / why decisions are made. And I'm still completely flabbergasted at the awful hypocrisy of institutions built to help children learn can't seem to treat their key employees - teachers and staff - with very much humanity. There's GOTTA be a better way to build an organization than what I've seen in my short career.


Now, to wrap this baby up. Jeffreygene really doesn't have an online "professional learning network". I'll change the rules again. J-dawg, Kaxmo, Hoov, Justin - you're all teachers in different ways, and you're all awesome. You don't have to do this silly meme. Just read what I wrote and comment, yeah?

But if you don't at least do will get warts on your ring finger in the next year. Really, it happened to my neighbor's cousin's girlfriend's auntie.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

False Alarm?

Well, over the weekend the government hasn't (yet) shut down secondary appears that my job will continue as usual over the coming weeks.

The day after the primary schools shut down, the headline of the leading English-language newspaper blared, "Disease Experts Claim No Need to Worry!" Apparently the deaths of the past month, while sharing some flu-like symptoms, don't have enough in common to lead the experts to think that there's any reason to worry about a coming bird flu epidemic. Today, the editorial page was full of letters complaining about the shut down / lack of advance notice / etc etc etc.

The general sense now seems to be that the government is engaging in a massive CYA operation. That's CYA, Cover Your Ass. Better to shut down the primary schools for two weeks, let whatever flu-like diseases are out there to wither and die, than to risk there being something dangerous lurking in the unwashed hands of 7 year-olds.

And who can blame them? It's about five years ago that SARS crippled the city (and lots of the mainland as well), and the government got such flack from alleged (or deserved, I don't know as I wasn't here or following it closely) failings during that scary time that Better Safe Than Sorry is the motto.

I was able to scare up some renewed interest from the lil beasties in our class wikispace...if we need it full time, it's there. And heck, dear reader, go over there and make some sort of edit yourself. Or give me some advice about how to spiff it up, get the students more involved on it. Aside from the small minority of lil guys who love me / love computers, the space is not widely used anymore.

And, don't forget to wash your hands! 20 second minimum, get that soap into a lather.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ruminations on Avian Flu, Day One

Wonder if any teacher in HK has anything else to say today other than the big news that the schools are starting to close down, in a big way, due to bird flue scares. My phone has been blowing up, with texts from gloating primary teachers to mass updates about the situation from my mobile operator (in Chinese).

Check it out:

As the article says, all primary schools in the city have closed down effective today through until after the Easter Holiday - next day scheduled for classes is March 31.

However, while our primary colleagues "suffer" in meetings and are busy drinking coffee until March 31, us secondary teachers soldier on with our students. The rationale is that secondary students are more mature / responsible and able to be more hygienic than younger students, thus reducing the likelihood of an infection spreading.

My initial reaction is that I feel cheated - every teacher loves snow days (or in HK typhoon days). Growing up in the Ohio I still remember the thrill of listening to the radio announce school closings, the excitement building until it got to the C's - "Columbus Public, all classes all schools, canceled!" It feels like there's a selective snow day going on here, like the typhoon number 8 signal is raised for primary but secondary is stuck at number 3.

That being said, it would NOT be good news to find out that secondary schools are ALSO closing.

For one, secondary students and teachers would simply be expected to "go virtual" - that's a contingency that my school is in the process of preparing for...a new project that I'm needed to work on, I found out a few hours ago via email. Give me 24 hours, I could get that wikispace back up into shape, and we're good to go. And then...I'm working HARDER to deliver the same 70 minutes of classroom learning per day. I'm getting cramps in my hands from typing a ton, my back and ass are killing me from sitting in front of a compy all day. I get paid the same. I work harder.

AND, while I'm sitting at home or in an empty classroom virtually teaching, the city of HK would go into lockdown mode. I wasn't here for SARS, but sounds like the city became a ghost town. Think investors might think the place is unlucky and shy away for a bit? Think the economy might go into a slide? That's the other reason I'm hoping that secondary schools don't close, because the idea of an avian flu outbreak scares the @#$)(* out of me.

The front page of the paper over the past week has carried the heartbreaking story of a young primary student who caught a flu, went to the hospital, all of a sudden went critical and had to be put on life support, and lastly was taken off of life support two days ago. Sounds like this little guy was a superstar: a real leader, polite and sharp. Every story had a photo of his father and a heroic quote about how the family was "holding out hope" and then later "unable to believe what has happened". I can't imagine how on earth that man is able to face the press. How awful to be front page news like that...

So really, here's hoping that the death toll of this outbreak stays at three. Here's a hope for the status quo to continue.

I'll keep anybody reading posted as events develop.

Friday, March 07, 2008


remembered this from dan meyer as a way to spruce up a photo montage...not as a way to teach any kind of learning! so for the guests that visit us tomorrow they get to see this.