Sunday, September 26, 2010

ipadio: Daryl's phlog - 3rd phonecast

Ideas Having Sex

Recently, I have been thinking about creativity, more specifically, about how my creative impulses are intimately connected to my happiness. Age and some small measure of wisdom have taught me that I am happiest when I am able to exercise my creativity. Most of my time is spent in the classroom (or thinking about the classroom) and so I wonder about how to maximize the creative impulse in both teaching and learning. One of my questions is why we (teachers) do not see more creativity in our classroom. Are we partly to blame? Do teachers discourage the creative impulse in an attempt to apply standards and uniform testing? What about the students; have they become passive learners who would rather follow the template than design it themselves?

Maybe our students are more creative than we think, than we see or than we give them the opportunity to demonstrate. My suspicion is that they are very creative but that they lack the confidence in their ability to showcase this side of their thinking. After all, creative people are often different and during the teens years, being too different carries a hefty price.  ( brought that message home to the student body this week in a riveting presentation about school bullying and violence.)   To be sure, it takes courage to be creative when that means showing how you are different.

Ken Robinson is widely recognized as an ‘expert’ on creativity and a critic of school systems that discourage it. In his recent book, The Element, he warns teachers and parents against encouraging uniformity because our children’s creative impulse often makes it impossible for them to ‘fit in’. The student who cannot sit still might be a future musician, athlete or dancer instead of another Ritalin would-be user.

Creativity is what teachers should be all about. Creativity is curiosity’s DNA. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) lists creativity as one of the primary 21st century skills; but that is not the only reason why teachers need to place this skill front and center. Look around us at the tremendous accomplishments of those we admire and see how the creative impulse (and the confidence to share this) makes the world a better place. Raymond Laflamme, the director of the Institute for Quantum Computing said, “creativity for a theoretical physicist is incredibly important [because]doing science is not a straight line. It’s more important to have a lot of ideas, many of them wrong, than to have no ideas at all.” Mr. Laflamme’s creativity lead him to question Stephen Hawkings’ interpretation of how time works when the universe collapses in on itself and for this insight, Hawkings himself, the world’s most famous physicist, has expressed gratitude to his former student, Quebec city native, Raymond Laflamme.

Steven Johson wonders about what kind of space promotes innovation and creativity, or as he describes it, ‘ideas having sex’. He talks about network patterns in our physical space that reflect the network patterns of the brain. Ideas are not single entities that arise from nothingness but rather ‘a network of ideas’ that is supported by nurturing hunches and promoting connectivity. The ‘EUREKA’ moment that brings the new idea is not how creativity and innovation work, according to Johnson. Instead, we ‘stitch’ together our partial ideas with insights and ideas of other people that we ‘meet’ in our connected networks.

 In the 1850’s this would have been a coffee house and today, it is the cyber space of the World Wide Web where our students can have a voice in the world’s global conversation.

Creativity wears a million different faces and as teachers, we see many of them. We must encourage this impulse to be creative and sometimes that means helping our students find the courage to express what they already intuitively have and know about themselves and the world. It also means providing the support and helping them build the networks within which their own “great ideas can have sex”. The world’s problems need creative minds and we (teachers) need to do our part to fan those flames in our students.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Simple Principles

This past summer at an exciting conference of educational leaders from all over the world, I met an amazing person who taught me a thing or two about being a good teacher. Her name is Adora Svitak and she’s twelve years old. That’s right, she’s twelve. During the day she attends classes and in the evening, she gives classes - in front of her computer, using Skype and other connective technologies. Her students are both children and adults, people who need tutoring and people who simply want to share in her passion for writing. Adora Svitak was one of the keynote speakers at the BLC2010 (Building Learning Communities) conference this summer, in with the likes of anthropology YouTube-ethnography professor Michael Wesch! She was engaging, inspiring and right on the money. She spoke about the power of young leaders and reminded all of us that size and age are not pre-requisite conditions for leadership.

This past weekend Adora Svitak’s message came home to me in a new way. A chance walk through the park with my Schnauzer brought a pleasant surprise - one of my students volunteering at a David Suzuki Foundation gathering. “Hey Miss, what are you doing here?” (Students are always so surprised to see that their teachers are real people with dogs, friends and a life outside of school.) However, the surprise was mine! There she was, Mira, at a gathering of eco-warriors and Montreal city council members planning future strategies for a greener city and celebrating past achievements. No one accompanied Mira to this auspicious occasion- no peers, no posse, no special friends, not even a faculty advisor (because she was representing the school’s “Green Warrior” group). She was by herself, the only teenager in a large group of adults, representing her cause, her principles, her passion – respect for the planet, sustainable living and making an ecological difference. No one told her to spend her sunny Saturday with a group of adults she barely knew. No one had to. Mira is that kind of person; the one who is motivated by principles and who, by her actions, stands as a reminder for the rest of us, that change can be as simple as becoming conscious of your actions. Simple things can make a difference. Listen to her message.

Mira’s message, like Adora’s is simple; when you care about something, you make your actions count and 'walk the talk'. Adults need to remember this uncomplicated passion of youthful dedication to principles. Yes, of course, actions and commitments must be tempered by and with all sorts of other concerns. Things are never that easy. We cannot always do what we want….or can we? Mira’s presence in that park on Saturday was a timely reminder that sometimes dedication to principles is just that uncomplicated. What are your cherished principles? What guides your life? How are you living each precious day according to your principles?
Sometimes, it is good for the young to lead the way and remind us that where the heart is, there the feet will follow. As for me, I will continue to count my lucky stars that I have the privilege of mentoring these youthful leaders. And you, how will you encourage these young citizens?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Video Editing from Your Browser

I've had it with Adobe Elements!  It crashes and freezes my computer.  I'm not a Mac user so I can't use Final Cut Express and Movie Maker, well...the pared down version for Windows 7 is even worse than the old one.  I don't want to spend more money on a video editing program so I decided to take Richard Byrne's tip and try out Jay Cut.  You don't need to download anything and JayCut work directly from your browser.  It's more interesting than the first time I looked at it last year because now you can include web cam footage.  So here is what I spent (too much) time doing today.  It's OK for the student's projects but I wouldn't really recommend it to the teachers who want something professional looking.   However, for the novice, it works well.  The program itself is intuitive and only needs a few alerts:

1- The embed code for the blog needs altering because the tag is wrong.  (Just add /embed inside these brackets < > and it should work.)
2 - In order for the transitions to work, you need to insert the clips on alternate lines.  The first clip goes on 'video A', then the next on the other line, 'video B' and then you can slide the transition in between the two.
3-  You can ease in the audio from a song and control the audio on your video clip but you can't control the volume of the imported song.

I like the subtitles.  Actually, for a freebie, it's great.  My younger students will like this. In a snap, you could use it to record a message to your class and the substitute teacher on days when you're sick in bed. (Thanks to Richard Byrne for that idea. I used it this week by recording a quick message with Camtasia and embedding it on the class wiki) . Try it out and leave your comment on either the program itself or my silly Schnauzer!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Blogging and Sunflowers

Why Do Teachers Blog?

A friend recently asked me why I blogged.  “Don’t you have enough work already?  Why add to your stress and workload?”  I did not need his prompting to begin my own self-inquiry; it had already begun.  It seems (among the many bloggers I read) that some sort of ‘existential blogger/crisis/identity’ happens at the blog’s one-year anniversary.  We all ask ourselves these questions; " Why bother?  What if no one is reading?  What can I say that is not already being said, (perhaps with greater eloquence and authority) by more experienced bloggers with a multitude of followers?"  I will not indulge in unnecessary blogger ‘navel-gazing’ here; it is unproductive and not the point of this post.  But in the event that a future blogger is reading this, I offer my reflections here.

I blog because I need to contribute to my voice to the very important conversation educators are having about the ‘tsunami-like’ changes happening in our society and classrooms.  In only three years, my own teaching and learning has changed dramatically because of web 2.0. I want to be a part of this greater movement because it is exciting and it has changed me in ways I could never have imagined.

I blog because I believe that my experiences and reflections might be valuable to others.  My voice does not only speak for me; it also brings my students’ concerns and experiences to the conversation.   It is important to share and help others who are on this learning curve. 

I blog because every post is a ‘value-added’ activity that I contribute to the collective learning curve, of which we are all a part.  Connected to this is a sense of responsibility and pride in being part of the most exciting changes I have seen in 21 years of teaching.  
Every new post is an opportunity to crystallize my own thinking and offer it to readers, who might be asking the same questions.  The act of reflecting, composing and posting is an intimate connection between the blogger and his/her audience.  The writing is solitary; but communal as well.  As you put words to the page, you frame your thoughts and experiences with a meaning that might not have been obvious to you before. 

My mother recently decided to purchase a laptop.  When I asked her what she wanted to do with this new tool, she gave me an impish grin and said, “I want to start blogging”.  At 77 years young, she feels the need to contribute her wisdom and experience to a global conversation.   She can be an example to anyone who has every thought of blogging. 
Why bother blogging?  Would we ask a sunflower, “Why bother blooming when there are so many beautiful flowers already?”   No.  We would welcome its contribution and admire its beauty because every flower has its place.  I blog for myself; I blog for my students; I blog for other teachers who are walking the same road.  Even if no one reads it; blog anyway.  Vincent Van Gough never sold a painting in his lifetime and that did not diminish the value of his work.  You have a voice; contribute your part to the global conversation and be enriched because of it.