To tweet or not to tweet

addictive twitter by carrotcreative on flickr.com

addictive twitter by carrotcreative on flickr.com

I have views on something I have never used.   There are a plethora of blog posts out there (eg pockets of change and once a teacher) that extol the virtues of this new social networking phenomenon.  For those still in the dark about what Twitter is, check out this talk from Evan Williams, the co-founder.

I am finding it hard to convince myself to take the plunge into the world of tweets.  I am partly unconvinced of its uses, and partly afraid of what it might unleash.  I cannot imagine why I would want to tell the world – in 140 characters or less – what I am doing at any given moment, or why I would want to know what anyone else is doing.  Why oh why would I choose to follow someone?  I don’t care that someone I have never met is about to go to a meeting, or get on a plane, or turn in for the night.  It seems a tad voyeuristic to me.  This is from someone who has so far resisted facebook or myspace.  Countless people have tried in vain to convince me to use it.  Yes, I can appreciate some advantages, especially for those of us living apart from many family and friends, but it boils down to this:  I am already in touch with the people I want to keep in touch with.  I don’t want to hear from someone I used to sit behind in primary school, or the person who lived in the dorm room down the hall at university.  If I did, they would already be in my contacts list.  I don’t have the time to see all the people I want to see in the flesh, let alone devote more time to folks online.  And Twitter seems to compound this issue.

Despite this post that describes several ingenious ways to use Twitter in the classroom, I remain skeptical.

And then I read this article which explains how Twitter was used to attempt to locate and save lives during a skiing tragedy… so maybe there is something in it … maybe in the new era of web 2.0, natural selection will favour those with the most followers on Twitter, friends on facebook or contacts on skype.

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New job title … children’s entertainer

how silly, how boring by kaswenden on flickr

how silly, how boring by kaswenden on flickr

Thanks to Kris for prompting this post….

Reading this article by Marc Prensky made me think about what school is for.  The premise is that students today are so used to having a variety of stimuli coming at them, they are bored in school where teachers don’t engage them sufficiently in the lessons.  [He makes another point about the curriculum not being relevant, but I’ll get to that later.]

True, many of us teachers could do a better job of involving our audience.  We all have off days when we give a less than brilliant performance, but here is my beef: schools are for learning.   And learning isn’t always fun and is very often hard work, and as teachers we do our best to plan interesting lessons within the constraints of timetables, curricula and external examinations… but at the end of the day we are devising ways to help our students learn skills, learn stuff.  And sometimes it can’t be an all-singing, all-dancing lesson.

He makes a good point about the curriculum in schools, though:

Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids. Where is the programming, the genomics, the bioethics, the nanotech—the stuff of their time? It’s not there.

We do some modern stuff.  But change is slow.  There’s the need to get everybody to buy into it – teachers, parents, tertiary education establishments, employers, examination boards, students.  Speaking from a personal standpoint – as a Biology teacher – I have seen many changes in the syllabus over recent years.  We now teach about biotechnology and ethical issues in science.  We discuss stem cell research and cloning.  But we are always going to be behind in many ways.  We can’t know what discoveries will be made in the future that will shape our understanding of science.

So, back to the article.  While I accept a lot of what is written, I need to remember that I am a teacher first, children’s entertainer … no, not even second.  A few more things come inbetween – counselor, facilitator, motivator, coach, advisor, supervisor, guide, role model, etc.

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Yoyo-ing about web 2.0

Reading Kim Cofino’s recent post and watching the presentations on 21st century learning, I am both daunted and inspired.  I feel like I have been in a coma for 10 years, and woken up to a whole new world that I don’t quite understand. 

First of all, the more I read, the more I feel out of the loop.  It seems as though there are thousands of teachers out there managing to incorporate new technology into their lessons.  They have umpteen ideas for its use and their students are benefiting from their expertise and guidance.  In trying to adapt, I am experiencing severe changes in emotion over this.  At times I feel excited at the prospects; at others I feel like I’m never going to get to grips with it all.

Teachermac talks about connectivism and so does this post over on Once a Teacher.  I am beginning to appreciate the need to develop my own pln, and to encourage my students to do the same.  I have to say, though, that this would certainly be easier if I worked in a laptop/tablet school.  I love the idea of collaborative note-taking [see Less Chalk, More Talk] and have begun taking steps towards this.  A colleague set up a wiki for his students to use in IB Biology.  The original idea was that the students themselves contribute to it by completing a series of questions from the syllabus.  However, these great intentions became derailed somewhat as he discovered only a handful of students could work on the wiki at one time.  In the end, he wrote the bulk of the answers himself, which defeated the purpose of student involvement.  This took a huge amount of time and effort on his part to set up, but now, although it is a great online resource, it is simply like a textbook rather than an interactive tool.

So, I suppose, I am basically reflecting here on where to concentrate my efforts.  I recognize I cannot do it all.  I know I have to be selective in where my energy goes.  This makes it all the more important to choose right.

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It’s not about the technology

What I am getting from reading all these edublogs is this – and others have alluded to it in their blogs, so I will not claim to be an original thinker here – it’s not about the technology.  It’s about good teaching practice.  It’s about engaging students in the learning process, motivating them towards deeper understanding, helping them develop skills in collaboration, application, evaluation, analysis and reflection.  Web 2.0 gives us some new toys to play with, and perhaps makes lessons more relevant to the world of the students we teach, but essentially, it is about inspiring young people to learn, enjoy learning and make connections.  Using technology will not necessarily make me a better teacher, but thinking about how to use it to make the learning process more interesting and exciting for my students, will.

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Turn off the computer?

Unplugged?At the risk of having rotten tomatoes thrown at me, and being ostracised from the blogging community, here is something that occurred to me today in class. 

I was lecturing/encouraging/suggesting that my students devote some time over this coming 3-day weekend to revision for their upcoming mock exams.  I went further and advised them to turn off their phones and computers while doing so.  To devote some uninterrupted time to active learning of the material they will be tested on, without the “distraction” of email, texts, internet, SMS, facebook, etc.  Was this bad advice?  I don’t think so.  Yes they can benefit from an online community of fellow students, help each other understand concepts, get ideas from peers, but I think there has to come a time when they need to focus purely on the revision and not multitask.  Am I expecting too much from them in asking them to do this when they are so used to being connected 24/7?  Is there a new, more effective way to revise material that I don’t yet know about?

I’m ducking behind my computer here!

Image from http://z.hubpages.com/u/136804_f260.jpg

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Classrooms of the future

In thinking about what classroom 2.0 should/could look like in the future, it is worth reading this post.  It is long, but the author makes many interesting, valid and thought-provoking suggestions as to what learning might look like in the next decade.

http://friendlyarachnids.edublogs.org/2007/11/17/9-c-1-2020-vision/

As you can see from the date, the post is already 18 months old, which in technology terms is probably around 10 years.  How exciting a learning environment does the author paint!  Talk about differentiated learning…

I must admit that my classroom today looks very different to the one described here.  I don’t have 7 alternative learning experiences happening simultaneously, integrating technology into each, with every student displaying our school-wide goals (particularly the self-directed learner part).  I’m trying not to feel overwhelmed and see this as a long-term aim for the future – 2020 is the year stated in the post.  A quick mathematical calculation puts me at 51 and still teaching, so this really is something I have to get to grips with.

But part of the problem is this – I don’t know what I don’t know.  I had the same sense during the workshop run by Alan November earlier this school year, which left me feeling inadequate as a teacher for not already being at one with the latest technologies available, never mind using them on a daily basis in the classroom. 

In the spirit of moving forwards, albeit with baby steps, I am slowly formulating a plan.  Next school year, grade 9 science is having a facelift.  It will no longer run as a purely biology course, but as an integrated science program with units that blend aspects of biology, chemistry and physics together.  I hope to be part of the team teaching this new course, and, as we put it together, I will be a strong advocate for implementing and integrating some of these new (to me at least) web 2.0 tools, right from the outset.  A fresh start, with a new group of students, and a new syllabus, may be just the way to go here.  It will also allow for trial and error without the worry of losing a single moment of lesson time with IB HL students.  Once I have experimented with new technologies in the classroom I hope to feel braver in adapting them for use across the range of classes I teach.

Thoughts?

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Getting the balance right

Life is about balance – balanced diet, balancing work and rest, balancing time spent with each of my children, balancing my desire to try new things in the classroom and my innate reluctance to change what has worked in the past…. you get the idea.

As my head is exploding with all the new things I am learning as a result of this course, and the many ideas that are floating, half-formed, in my brain right now, I have a concern:

The time I spend reading [and more recently writing] blogs will potentially take away from the time I spend actually speaking to colleagues – about students, about curriculum, about assessment, about technology in the classroom.  Don’t get me wrong – I can ABSOLUTELY see the benefit of all these new tools and their use in improving learning – but my dilemma is that I will be interacting more with teachers virtually than physically.  Schools are busy places and teachers are a busy breed, so finding time to both learn by networking in cyberspace and collaborate with the teacher in the room next door may be a challenge.

I have read a lot of blogs lately, and one that heartened me greatly was this:

http://pocketsofchange.edublogs.org/2009/02/15/start-small/

Interestingly it is by two teachers at my old school.  I didn’t actually work with them as I was on extended maternity leave when they joined the staff, but in this small universe of international education, it is no surprise that there is a connection.  The post above encourages us novices to start small, and build gradually.  That is a smart plan.

Back to finding that elusive balance….

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