Monday, September 28, 2009

It's not the tech - it's the connection

I'm not a wiki evangelist, nor do I glorify any tech tools above the real connection between people which is where true learning begins. It's not about tech for tech's sake; it's what these powerful tools can do in the hands of teachers and students who dare to be creatively different and change with the times.

We all know, or have heard stories of expensive tech toys and tools that sadly 'collect dust' because of under use. If we were honest with ourselves, we could probably think of ten ways to better use the tech that we have at our disposal. (Come on now, admit that you don't really know everything that you can do with microsoft word.) Buying bigger, better and faster tech won't make us better teachers but the desire to grow beyond the boundaries of who we are today and what we know now certainly will. Tech (laptops, smartboards, wikis, blogs, podcasts, screencasts, whatever) is a powerful way to grow. When students see their teachers leading them into new and exciting waters, they become adept swimmers. OK, enough with the metaphors I can hear you saying. Now it's time for the video that illustrates my point.

This is the story of PS22, a public school in New York replete with all the budget and social problems you can image an inner city school faces. But one teacher with one guitar and his video camera had an idea; he filmed his kids singing Landslide by Fleetwood Mac and sent it to Stevie Nicks. She was blown away by the gesture and invited the choir to sing for her at Madison Square Gardens. Listen to the song and be prepared for goosebumps.

This teacher is an example of low tech and high creativity blowing the walls right out of the classroom. He made a direct connection between the learning in class and the 'real world'. He could have filmed this with a digital camera! You see, it's not the tech; it's the creativity and the desire to grow and be as much as we can be. So, what tool can you use to help your students grow and what challenges are you going to present to them?
Go to Youtube for other PS22 choir videos and check out their blog at:
In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~Eric Hoffer

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Assessment for Learning

Anne Davies' presentation/workshop on 'Assessment for Learning' today at the QAIS conference was a real eye opener for me. Assessment FOR learning is nothing like assessment OF learning. As teachers, we live under the 'plague' of assessment/evaluation. What if there were other ways to assess our student's progress would also encourage their natural desire to succeed?

Here's what I took away from today for immediate implementation in my classroom: involve the students in generating the criteria for assessment and they become powerfully 'engaged' in their own learning. It makes sense because involving them is the bridge to 'intrinsic motivation'. If students know that they have generated (or at least partially generated) the criteria for assessment (the rubric), they become true 'stakeholders' in their own learning.

In the land of educational theorists, vocabulary can be a deterrent in the effective communication of powerful concepts. Don't be fooled by the language. To become engaged is to care about what happens to you and around you. I can't think of a more important quality for authentic (OK, real) learning than 'owning' that learning. If students participate in generating the criteria, not only will they be more 'engaged' but this will nurture and encourage intrinsic motivation...and THAT is what separates those who succeed from those who don't. Talent and brains don't guarantee success if the motivation is not intrinsic! (If you don't believe me, listen to Dan Pink talk about the science of motivation on Ted.)

I look forward to reading her book and working with my colleagues on how to improve our assessment tools so that our students can become better learners.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blogs, Wikis and Web 2.0

Here it is - my maiden voyage into the blogospere. In the summer of 2008 during the Campus Technology conference in Boston, I discovered blogs, wikis, the semantic web, cell phones as pedagogy and much more. After one year of tinkering with wikis and thinking about blogging, the time has come to put post to 'paper' and publish.

I'm not sure about how this blog will evolve but I know what I want to do with it: this will serve as a repository for the amazing sites and tools that I've found over the past several months. I offer this to my colleagues and other teachers on their learning curve.

My first offering is Helen Barrett and her site at I listened to her presentation at Classroom She was very compelling in making a case for e-portfolios as both a learning and assessment tool. E-portfolios are the next step in my own education and they are completely compatible with le renouveau pedagogique, final complex tasks and evaluating competencies. A student who is building their e-portfolio must make complex choices about their digital documents that most describe their learning curve and unique story.

E-portfolios have uses for teachers too! You never know when you'll be looking for a new posting, applying to another school or even taking on a different direction in your learning career. Administrators appreciate them for performance evaluation tools.

But what most captured my attention about her presentation was the idea that the e-portfolio is a living legacy that the 'new middle-aged' should have. Think of how much have we created over the years! All those lesson plans! To heck with that, what about all those poems I wrote? And all those great pictures! And what about those fabulous ideas for books (now blogs?) that I want to write when I have time and 'retire'? She gave me lots to reflect on and I'll be following her closely.