Archive for the “Classrooms” Category

I’m beginning to work with different kinds of media to get comfortable creating immersive visual learning environments for students. The sophomores in the two schools I work in don’t even remember Michael Jordan playing for the Bulls (there is something very wrong with that), and a 32 year-old teacher wasn’t even born when the VietNam War ended. So, why not recreate historical environments for students to give them a context for understanding, using the rich resources and tools available to us.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my first attempt of this will be with the Kennedy Assassination. I was four years old (OK, do the math to figure out how old I am), and don’t remember anything about it. I do remember when RFK was shot, and I do remember the King Assassination-both vividly. I’ve also been to Dealy Plaza several times and I’m always amazed at how small it is and that it looks like any intersection in America. I’ve stood on the famous grassy knoll, and I’ve been on the 6th Floor of the Texas School Book Depository, and stood next to the sniper’s nest. It’s very difficult to describe…

So, why not use Streetview to show students the actual physical layout.? Why not take them down the assassination route? Why not tell them the story, but also show them? With Streetview we can do this. Here is an embedded map from Streetview, and of Dealy Plaza:


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I’ve started you out facing the Book Depository. Move up to see the 6th floor window where Oswald allegedly was (its directly to the right of the three lights of the traffic signal). You can even zoom in, and get a really sinister feeling. Zoom back out, move down the street by clicking on the arrows in the yellow paths (how cool is that?) and locate the grassy knoll to the right. If you are good, you’ll see an X on the street that a local tour guide paints on the street to mark the location of the fatal shot. People stand on this spot when there is no traffic and take a photograph up at the 6th floor.

I’ve done that myself.  Let me tell you, it sends absolute chills up your spine.

You can open Streetview by going to Google Maps and clicking on the Streetview icon. A Google login is not required to use Google Streetview so that’s good. Additionally, if you would like to the embed the video as I have, click on the Link to this Page link, and the code will be there. Embed in a blog or a wiki, or yes, even a Google Earth placemark (v4.2 on the PC side, sorry Mac users).

Think of the possibilities for this subject…could you have multiple Streetview maps embedded in a wiki that would enable kids to travel the assassination route? Engaging? Certainly. Would this improve learning history?

In the next several weeks, I’ll build out some lessons which utilize different media tools that enable educators to create mixed media learning environments. I hope that you will join me, and suggest strategies and tools for this project.

Here’s the Google Video that explains more about Streetview:

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Remember HyperCard? Hypercard was that cool program Macs had that enabled you to build “stacks” of cards that contained content. Did you ever take a class in HyperCard, with the intention of building stacks for your students?

How well did that work out for you?

Teacher Web pages are the HyperCard stacks of 2008.

Rewind to 1992 or somewhere close, I can’t remember exactly. I taught a class, as did many schools, on how to program in Hypertalk, which was the programming language of HyperCard. That wasn’t too hard to do, and teachers could make simple stacks easily enough. Some tried, but it quickly fizzled. It didn’t stick at all.

Why? Teachers aren’t programmers. They never have been and they never will be. So the lessons of the early 1990’s were forgotten when the Web rolled around, and when schools decided that teachers should learn HTML, Web page design, and Web page editing software. How well is that working?

Simply stated, schools that expect teachers to build Web pages are making a mistake, and wasting hours of time and money on “training” teachers.

Does this picture fit your school? You have some professional development day (or perhaps even days), a teacher geek shows you to use some Web page editing software, how to insert a hyperlink, a graphic, and maybe even a table. You learn how to FTP that to a district server, and now you have thirty people that have Web pages that have different layouts, different colors, and some really simple content like a phone number, class schedule, and perhaps a calendar?

Fast forward six months. Not much has been updated, has it? Probably most haven’t done anything. But they’ve got a Web page!

The idea that teachers should build Web pages doesn’t work, and it’s a classic and representative example of why technology has not delivered on its potential in schools. Here are my top five reasons for this failure, and the failure of technology to alter the learning landscape…

Reason 1: Using technology to create and support learning opportunities in most schools is not considered mission-critical. Technology is seen as integrative and not integral. It’s nice, schools have to have some, and if something good gets done with it, well, that’s good. How many schools require teachers to have a Web presence? Or is it optional? And what does optional mean to a busy teacher?

Reason 2: Most administrators have failed to understand technology and how it applies to the learning process on the most fundamental level. How many could accurately and effectively assess the inclusion of technology within a teacher’s lesson so that they could comment intelligently on the added value that the technology brings to the learning process, or doesn’t bring? How many have a true and honest expectation that technology will be used properly by teachers and students, follow up on that, and ask teachers to demonstrate it? How many have worked to provide the proper climate for experimentation and innovation? But what happens when administrators do have a grasp of technology? Ask yourself this question: “When there is robust administrative support for technology, coupled with the expectation of use within the context of learning, what happens to technology use in that school?”

Reason 3: Schools have not provided teachers with the proper tool(s), infrastructure, or support to get the job done. This ranges from not supplying the right tool, or preventing the right ones from being used. Additionally, one staff development day a year doesn’t cut it with a complex tool and process like building Web pages.

Reason 4: Teachers are too comfortable. Why build Web pages? And with Reasons 1-3, they might just have an argument. But in 2008, a class that does not have an online presence to support the learning that takes place there is missing a critical component. It’s a class that could be much better. Too many are too comfortable with doing what they’ve always done.

Reason 5: Teachers have not seen the benefit. Teachers will use technology-I know this firsthand and so do you. But to take that step into technology use, most teachers have to see a return on their investment; they have to see an impact on learning, and this is a healthy expectation. Now consider building a Web page-what exactly could they put on a Web page that they couldn’t put on a handout? Asking them to build a Web page that only addresses productivity issues (contact information, class schedule, homework, etc.) and perhaps links to other Web sites is not enough. But unfortunately, that’s what most will be only capable of. A course presence must be much larger in scope, and include elements that focus not just on information and productivity, but on supporting learning. And please don’t suggest that teachers can link to things like blogging, wiki, and social bookmarking sites to add that component. By doing something like that-joining a collection of independent tools together-the skills and understanding and support required to make that a realistic component to learning is probably beyond most. Sure, some can do it, but I’m interested in doing it system-wide.

So, what to do? Get an approachable and usable tool. Get one that has productivity and learning applications built in. Get one that has type and submit content capability. Get some best practice examples that teachers can emulate. Get a vision, and get an expectation that having a digital component to student learning is absolutely necessary. Make it part of your culture, and support it relentlessly. Extend the learning beyond the hours of the classroom, and begin to extend the learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Give yourself a chance…

That’s enough of my rant. Time to fire up my old Mac Classic and do a little programming.

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An essential concept in the study of biology is that of permeability. As a former biology teacher, it was my experience that students often struggled with this concept and what impermeable, permeable, and semi-permeable meant and how it applied to things such as diffusion and osmosis (you remember those, right?).

Permeability can be applied to other concepts besides biology. Specifically, the concept of permeability can apply to learning communities, and how open and closed they are to their members, and potential members. In a typical high school, learning communities are fragmented and isolated, if they even exist at all. It’s unlikely that any of us would label a typical high school classroom, with its characteristic five rows of six desks, limited access to information and conversation, a learning community. Very little interaction exists within the classroom, and interaction from sources outside the four walls of the classroom is generally non-existent-the classroom walls, in effect, are impermeable.

That certainly can be changed, and the tools (blogs, wikis, social networking, RSS, etc.) we have now at our disposal make it doable and achievable, but many things have to fall into place. Teachers have to be willing, the technology must be available, administrators must understand the need, and the school’s climate and culture, which is greatly influenced by the community that the school serves, must be supportive.

So, as a result, the formation of learning communities in schools depends greatly on the school itself. What is a solution, or a plan, in one school may not be a solution, or a plan, in another. Additionally, even within a school, there may be different needs-some teachers may be ready, others may be not so ready, so that a plan for building learning communities needs to be flexible and scaleable, and provide the necessary infrastructure to meet the varying needs of the different constituents of the school. One size does not fit all…

There is no right or wrong answer to building learning communities, but I do think there is a basic flow.

If the end goal is to help students and classrooms build learning communities with individuals and other schools or classrooms, and make the classroom permeable, you have to start with the teachers. Teachers have to learn the tools, learn how to connect and contribute (typically through a blog), learn how to manage time and feeds, learn how to adjust the membership of their learning community, and learn how to accept being criticized when their ideas oppose those of others. Teachers need to see firsthand the benefits of a learning community, and what it means to their personal learning, before it can ever translate successfully to students. To get learning communities to develop and stick, start with teachers first.

From there, I’m interested in building skills in students that will make them successful when they ultimately join wide-open learning communities. I’m teaching them how to read blog posts, how to collaboratively create content in wikis, how to comment appropriately, how to manage RSS feeds, and how to manage content resources with social bookmarking tools. I’m teaching them how to operate in a community. And I’m teaching them all about safety.

Is this a necessary step? Ask yourself-yes or no? If no, stop reading this post. If your answer was yes, then what’s the best way to do that?

What’s the best way to do that on a large scale, and in a systemic way? Where you can impact the most teachers and the most kids, in the most effective and safe way? I’m not talking just blogging now, I’m talking about building learning communities, which is what I’m interested in. Blogging OK, I get it. But that’s just a part of a larger goal.

You can do all of that in a number of ways. You can do it by asking teachers to manage multiple online tools that all work differently and require different management requirements. Or you can do it with a content management system where all of this is under one roof. And before some of you go CMS on me, you could also do it with Ning, couldn’t you?

So, what’s the plan? Expose the most teachers and kids to these capabilities, teach them in a controlled environment, where teachers and students, mostly new to the process of working in a learning community, can make their mistakes without too high of a cost? Or maybe the plan is to stay “true to the process” and put the kids out there, really out there, but certainly prepare them prior with what they need to know.

I’ll take Door #1 Bob, the semi-permeable classroom, where true community is first established within the classroom. That’s just me. It might not be you.

I think a classroom must be semi-permeable before it can become a permeable classroom.

Creating a truly permeable classroom is a major change in how classrooms work. It is a big departure from where most classrooms are now. You just don’t change that overnight with a few commonly available tools, and just by blogging. It’ll require a great deal of professional support and curriculum design, with a great deal of reflection and course-correction. I’ll approach that carefully. The stakes are too high not to.

And when the time comes, I’d turn them loose. When the specific curricular needs suggest a permeable experience is warranted, I’d turn them loose. When the teacher says, we need to connect outside of our classroom because of this and this, I’d turn them loose. When the teacher says I’m ready and so are my kids, I’d turn them loose.

But I’m crawling before I’m walking.

images from istockphoto.com

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