A Framework for Thinking Instructionally about Web 2.0 Tools

Knowledge and learning require both transmission and construction » Moving at the Speed of Creativity

I ran across this post by Wesley Fryer in my return to the Web 2.0 pool. This paragraph in particular struck me pretty hard as I think about how to introduce more Web 2.0 technologies to my teachers.

The day of blended learning has dawned. Knowledge and learning requires BOTH the transmission of content and the construction of local schema focused on that content. Our methods for accessing robust multimedia content are going to keep exploding for the foreseeable future. HOW we access the content IS important, but a more difficult (and pedagogically challenging) question is, “What are you going to ask (or invite) learners to DO with that content?” What are learners going to create? How are they going to collaborate in that creative process? How are you going to document that process of creation and learning? How are learners going to represent their understanding of both content and skills related to the topic of study, in ways they cannot FAKE or a classmate (or parent) can’t do for them?

I know I talk about projects a lot with the staff development I present. Sometimes I feel a resistance there because teachers are pressed to cover their curriculum and projects take time away from that. But do they? Is the teacher-lecture-textbook-reading-completing -worksheets model THE most effective means for students to learn the curriculum being covered? Anyone who has been in education for the last 10 years knows the answer to that question is a resounding NO.

Students have changed. They are digital natives. They live in a world where they can record themselves and their friends with their cell phones and post those videos on YouTube. They no longer have to have email accounts because they keep in touch through MySpace or Facebook or any number of social networking sites. They post their deepest thoughts to a faceless audience through blogs. This generation learns and produces socially.

In the same post by Fryer, you’ll find the following chart:

I think this chart is a great brainstorming platform to leap from when it comes to discussing Web 2.0 tools in the classroom and justifying their use.

None of this should be completely foreign to those who have seen the learning pyramid.

From what I can see, when students are working in the interactive/asynchronous area of Fryer’s chart, they are working in all areas of the learning pyramid not just the top tier like the would be with the non-interactive/synchronous block. If students are going to retain more information by working on the bottom tiers of the learning pyramid, doesn’t it make sense to use what is familiar to them (Web 2.0 technologies) to engage them and cover the curriculum at the same time? Won’t we cover our curriculum this way and, more importantly, help students retain the curriculum we cover?

Swimming in the Deep End…Again!

Ok, I’ve taken a break from blog reading/posting and even using my Google home page combined with Google gadgets like Google Reader etc. I’ve just been too busy to engage in the Web 2.0 world for a while.

So recently, as my scheduled has relaxed a little, I have cannonballed back into the deep water and I am fired up once more! It’s been so easy to focus solely on NCWise or the day-to-day grind of troubleshooting and meetings. I am ashamed to see that my blog posts have waned considerably.

What I realized over the last days is that by not actively participating in Web 2.0, I have missed out on what is currently happening in the world of technology education. My professional knowledgeometer has dipped down to empty and I have been running on fumes. This in turn has an impact on the staff of teachers I am supposed to inspire and, more importantly, the student body who desperately needs teachers to engage them in meaningful ways.

So, with renewed fervor, I stand on the edge of the Web 2.0 pool and survey the waters. There is a lot of work to do.

I recently attended a department meeting of social studies teachers. One comment that has haunted me: “No matter what activity I do, the kids just don’t care. I don’t know how to make social studies interesting to them anymore.” During the meeting I heard teachers spinning their wheels with old technologies/teaching methods that don’t interest students. There was a distinct staleness in the conversation. It struck me that like many teachers, they are isolated in their classrooms and are starving for fresh new ideas. I want so desperately now to connect our teachers with professional blogs and resources where they can learn more about what others in their fields are doing with technology and the read/write web. Just like I have benefited from a renewed dip into the Web 2.0 pool, I know teachers would as well and, in turn, hopefully share these benefits with the students.

Blogging=Cycle of Learning

Yesterday, as I was helping teachers tweak their blogs in anticipation of launching them to the web, I began thinking about the wonderful possibilities blogs are opening up for our students.  We have so many blogs now that span all different curriculae.  These students have the opportunity to comment on all sorts of different topics.  I see a new cycle of learning developing here.

Students are visiting our school’s blogs.  They read the posts and others’ comments.  Then they process what they’ve read and start writing their own comments.  It occurred to me that we are encouraging students to write across the curriculum!  I have heard this buzz phrase before but I’m not exactly sure I’ve seen it being accomplished up to this point.  Now, I’m seeing students comment on P.E. blogs, art blogs, language arts blogs, science blogs, math blogs, technology blogs, and social studies blogs.  And best of all, they LOVE it!  These students love seeing their comments posted on the Internet.  They have found a voice!  They are reading!  They are writing!  They are learning!

Ok, I am a bit excited.  I have been told that I’m clicking on all cylinders and I suppose that’s true.  I just get really fueled up when I see technology doing it what’s supposed to do in a school:  support and encourage learning.  Technology should walk hand-in-hand with the curriculum.  When it does, the two can be a powerful force and that is what we’re seeing happen at MCMS.

A Treasure Hidden in the Paper Wasteland of my Desk

I want to post something that was given to me by one of our 6th grade science teachers.  I’ve had this sitting in a pile on my desk for a while now and I am thrilled to have “rediscovered” it.  It’s funny what one may find when one actually takes the time to clean one’s desk (which, for me, is the end of the year).  😉  The following is entered as it was submitted to me. 

 We live in a video and technology driven world.

Learners are drawn to the excitement that using technology brings to any lesson.

 Technology has tremendous power to help students obtain, organize, manipulate, and display information.

We need to emphasize the integration of higher order thinking skills using authentic tasks.  Instead of students practicing discrete, isolated skills, the curriculum would stress composition, comprehension, and applications of skills.

Using technology for meaningful activities also helps integrate a variety of disciplines, more closely resembling activities that people undertake in the world beyond the classroom.  For example, word processing is a real-world technology that can help students develop writing and thinking skills.  Using the computer, students write longer, more complex sentences and are more willing to revise and edit their work.  They are able to concentrate on the thoughts they want to express rather than the mechanical skills of penmanship, spelling, and grammar (Hornbeck, 1990).

Technology also can help students develop positive cooperative learning relationships, enabling them to work together while researching topics and creating presentations.  In such relationships, students help each other learn.

Using technology not only helps me become a more creative teacher but it also helps my students as they are developing into more enthusiastic, life-long learners.

Technology cannot become a meaningful support for students’ work if they have access to it for only a few minutes a week. 

–Sue Sippel

I wholeheartedly agree!  What a way to end a wonderful year! 

Laptop Learning Initiative–Final Assignment

“As your final assignment, due May 15, please update your blogs with a link to your best laptop based project (preferably Web 2.0)…Along with that link, I would like you to describe what it is and how the laptop helped you accomplish this. Share some changes in your work habits that the laptops inspired. Finally, give some thoughts on what kinds of training or initiatives you would like us to undertake as a group next year.”

My Best Laptop Project: Enhanced Podcast of 5th Grade Visit to MCMS (Used Photo Story, Audacity, Creative Commons Music)

I was asked to document one of our new strategies for helping rising 6th graders with their transition to middle school. Our school assigned visiting 5th graders as shadows to current 6th graders for a day. I took digital photos of their visit and then interviewed one boy and one girl along with the 6th graders they were shadowing. We recorded the interview straight into Audacity. I edited the audio in Audacity, utilizing the techniques learned in our workshop with Patrick Keough. I created an enhanced podcast in Photo Story by combining the digital photos and the mp3 track of the interview created in Audacity. I found some Creative Commons Licensed music and created a short edited track in Audacity which I mixed in for introduction and exit music. I also added the music track to the interview, mixing it in Audacity before I created the mp3. Having the laptop really helped because we were able to pass the laptop around during the interview. It has a built-in microphone, the only one we had in the school at the time. I was also able to work on the project over the weekend because it was saved on the desktop of my laptop.

How My Work Habits Have Changed by Using a Laptop: My work habits have changed quite a bit. I take my laptop to meetings and take minutes on the computer instead of writing things down. I have felt much more free to use a data projector for instruction because I can just scoop up my machine and check out the cart with the projector. I don’t have to worry about a computer being available to use with the projector or having to use a very long cable to connect the projector to a desktop across the room. I have used my laptop at conferences to take notes, collaborate, and edit our school’s web page remotely. I have used the laptop with two different groups of science students to teach and guide them through making digital movies as part of a project. It was easier for four students to gather around a laptop at a table in the Media Center and work on their movie than to huddle around a desktop. I watched, amazed, as these students worked together in teams. They were so excited to be using the laptop and a wireless mouse that they were eager to take turns being “in control” on the machine. I have also used my laptop to share ideas with other educators through Skype and Second Life.

Thoughts on Projects for Next Year: I would really like to learn more about:

  • screencasting,
  • using blog software to create my own blog from scratch (I would love to see our school’s website become a blog but we need more control than a free website like Word Press could give us.)
  • using Web 2.0 tools with students
  • using online school programs like Blackboard in a public school

Final Thoughts: I want to thank Joe Poletti for being the driving force behind this project and the county for allowing the purchase of laptops for all tech facilitators in the county. I think we as a group are closer because of the collaboration we have experienced. We have branched out and tried new things. My life is different because of the flexibility and mobility I have with my laptop. It has impacted the lives of students in my school both directly and indirectly. That’s what technology is all about after all: impacting students and aiding learning. If that is the end result at the end of the day, then the money spent was well worth it. I would love to see this possibility open up for our teachers and students in the future as well. I know our teachers would be more productive if they had such easy access to technology and the software we use at school. Using data projectors in the classroom would be so much easier as well because now we have problems with having the correct cables and the distance of the teacher’s desktop from the projector. I have stated my opinions before about every student having their own laptop. I would love to see a one-to-one initiative happen in our county, where every student had access to their own computer. I know computers aren’t the answer to all of education’s ills but I think leveling the playing field in the area of technology would open up a world of possibilities for many students who would ordinarily never be exposed to them.

Digital Writing Wonders

Last week, one of our 6th grade language arts teachers used the wireless lab to have students write a story about a mythological figure.  The teacher was so impressed with the quality work students were turning out.  She actually said that she would have them write on the computer from now on because their work was so much more creative.

Hearing this kind of statement really made me stop to reflect for a few days.  What is the connection between writing digitally and creativity?  Is there a different thought process involved that occurs when we put pen to paper versus typing on a keyboard?  What is the connection?

Now, these stories were not to be published on the web so the students knew there was no audience but their teacher.  According to her, she had students participating and producing in the activity who would normally not engage if the assignment were done on paper.

Is the answer as simple as technology helps kids connect to learning?  Could it be that by simply handing them computers, we are making a bridge between school and the digital world they live in?  Once the bridge is in place, students are able to engage in ways they could not before?

Lots of questions, I know.  There is no hidden agenda here.  I’m not trying to sell anyone on technology.  It’s just that when a very experienced teacher is willing to abandon former practices because she sees technology is making a difference, I sit up and pay attention.

I am very interested in hearing opinions on this one!  If anyone has research on writing with technology, I would love to read it.