dialog

a site for serious play


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I’m a maker!

Anything that can keep me focused whilst sitting for 5 hours on the world’s most uncomfortable stool  has to be good! And “good” (in fact,  more than good) is how I’d describe my maker experience on Friday at Macquarie University with Gary Stager in the ‘Invent to Learn’ workshop.

Whilst someone I spoke to afterwards indicated they would have liked to have heard  a bit more from Gary on the theory behind Maker Learning, I was more than happy to spend a good part of the day engaged in “making,” because  that’s what I can’t get from reading a book or researching the Net. If you’re wanting that sort of information then you can’t go past Invent to learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom by Stager and Martinez.

That said, here are a few of Gary’s “gems” about Maker Learning:

  • Making is the last shot for progressive education; it’s a means to keep interdisicplinary and constructivist learning alive, and to blur the boundaries between academic and vocational education
  • Our highest calling as teachers is to equip kids to solve problems that don’t yet exist
  • Schools should expose kids to things they don’t know they love
  • Young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity if they have an investment in something
  • Using technology is not cheating; it makes complexity possible
  • Don’t get distracted by the “shiny objects”; the making process is more important than the product
  • The reason you can get information off the Internet is because someone else  was willing to share
  • All assessment interrupts the learning process
  • Why document the process of making a robot; the robot is the documentation!
  • A good [project] prompt is brief, ambiguous and immune to assessment
  • Let kids stay with something long enough for it to change their lives

And so to making…. My making experience really thrust me into the shoes of the learner. As Gary informed us that we were about to be let loose with  Makey Makey kits,  LEDs and conductable thread, Aduinos, conductable paint and play doh, Scratch programming software and lots of other “stuff,” I really had no idea of how it was going to pan out – I have enough trouble working out how the TV manages to decode signals to produce a picture, so this was going to be a real challenge!

That said, I was very proud of my making efforts (both individual and collaborative):

2013-09-08_1928

And what did I learn from my making?

  • Just dive in and play
  • Try, try and try again, and if it still doesn’t work…
  • Ask someone for help
  • Time flies when you’re “in the zone”
  • Making needs to be meaningful – why else would you do it? ( so those who know of my affinity for graphic novels would recognise my “brooch” as a thought bubble with a kapow symbol and not just “two bits of felt stuck together” – my son’s description)

My next question is, are these things that we desire of our students as learners? The answer is clearly and loudly YES! For each and every one of the processes or “states” that I experienced, there’s a wealth of literature to support them as educational objectives. Think Michael Schrage (serious play) and Seymour Papert (hard fun); think Vygotsky (social proximity) and John-Steiner (collaboration); think persistence (Dweck) and resilience (Tough); and think flow (Csikszentmihalyi).


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Maker Learning and indoor playgrounds

Last week I attended the International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) conference in Richmond, Virginia in my capacity as coordinator of the IBSC Action Research Program. Every year a group of teachers from around the world are accepted into the research program and meet at the IBSC’s annual conference to share their ideas about an action research project they will undertake in their schools over the next 12 months. The research topic for the current 2013-2014 research team revolves around initiatives that foster character development in boys. Between now and the presentation of their projects at next year’s conference in Nashville, team members will continue to be supported as members of an online research community.

As well as working with the current research team, the research topic for the 2014-2015 team was announced in Richmond, and this brings me to the subject of this post. It’s not an easy task to predict what research topic will be relevant and enticing to educators in twelve month’s time.  That said, one can get a pretty good sense from the Twitterverse of learning initiatives that promise to be “hot” in the near future. And so it was that early this year I began to notice an increasing reference to the Maker Movement and Maker Learning. Since I wasn’t overly familiar with these concepts, I set out to find out more. The more I read, the more excited I became as the potential of Maker Learning to reshape teaching and learning in our schools became obvious. And so it was that I proposed Maker Learning be the IBSC action research topic for 2014-2015. The following Introduction to Maker Learning is what I  wrote for the IBSC Trustees in the hope that they too would see the value of Maker Learning as a research topic.

Making

Learn to Solder, Orlando Mini-Maker Faire, May 2012 by Mitch Altman (CC Flickr)

Introduction to Maker Learning

Despite compelling research indicating the value of constructionist learning and teaching, instructionist models of education that focus on standardised testing and assessment continue to prevail in our classrooms. Constructionist learning, or learning by “making,” is something children still largely engage in external to both the classroom and formal lessons: the playground is where a lot of the creativity, playing and making is happening.  For many educators, the artificial separation in schools of making and learning sits uncomfortably with the need to facilitate in students those skills identified as important for effective learning in the twenty-first century: curiosity, intellectual courage, imagination, exploration, commitment, critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, resilience, and collaboration. These teachers should be encouraged, however, by the movement afoot to establish making in the classroom as a fundamental building block of twenty-first century learning; a movement which comes in the guise of the Maker Movement and its associated process of Maker Learning or Maker Education.

The contemporary Maker Movement puts a label on something that humans have always done, and will always do: make things to solve problems that are personally meaningful.  Most of us, if not all, were makers as children: think back to the cardboard box that became a garage, a puppet theatre or doll’s house; to the Lego blocks that became a starfighter or pirate ship. And many of us continue to make into adulthood as we dabble in all nature of hobbies and DIY projects. But what distinguishes the contemporary Maker Movement from previous notions of making (and many current examples of inquiry or project-based learning) is some 21st Century know-how in the form of a technology focus that extends and reshapes traditional making,  and allows new forms of making to be pursued (Anderson, 2012). Amazing products, for example, are being made in the fields of 3D printing and fabrication (check out Thingiverse ),  electronics, physical computing, wearable computing and E-textiles, LEGO engineering, electronic/digital music, and robotics. As well, technology has enabled what was once considered a fairly private pursuit to become a shared one as makers collaboratively design, create and share products online.

Maker Learning initiatives are appearing in  ever-increasing numbers in schools around the globe. In the United States, Maker Learning is the basis for the Obama administration’s Educate to Innovate initiative designed to stimulate learning in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  Maker Learning, however, need not be confined to the STEM disciplines; there are countless opportunities in the Arts to engage in contemporary making. and many educators, therefore, prefer the STEAM acronym. Further, as Chang (n.d.) notes, the potential of Maker Learning to be interdisciplinary lies in opportunities for students to “blog about their progress and experiences, write research papers about the design process and scientific method, present their creations and discoveries at school conferences or public events like Maker Faire, and even incorporate multimedia and create photo-essays or video documentaries.”

With its strong links to educational theory, Maker Learning holds promise to be more than an educational one-night stand. In their recent book (and a must-read), Invent to learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom, Martinez and Stager (2013) highlight the connection between making and the constructivist learning theories of Dewey, Vygotsky, Montessori and Piaget, wherein a child’s learning is achieved through internal construction of meaning, not external instruction. In the 1970s, Seymour Papert, the “Godfather” of the Maker Movement, took the constructivist view of learning and extended it into a Theory of Constructionism. Central to this theory is the notion that learning is most effective when part of the learning experience involves construction of a meaningful product. In practical terms, making is learning that is personally meaningful, experiential and shareable (Martinez & Stager). The role of the teacher in this learning process, notes Papert, “is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge” (in Martinez & Stager, p. 57).

Whilst “making” has an obvious concern for product, its value for our classrooms lies also in the learning that happens around the making.  Martinez and Stager (2013) note, “fortunately for educators, this ‘maker movement’ overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing” (p. 2). Santo (2013) describes such learning as a process involving:

that initial spark of curiosity, the investigation and early tinkering, the planning and research that follow, the inspirations and appropriations from other projects, the prototypes, the failures, the feedback, and, perhaps most importantly, the iterations upon iterations towards a better make. All of these acts are done in and contingent on well configured social contexts, in communities of practice and affinity spaces.

Santo’s description ties in nicely with Sir Ken Robinson’s (2013) advocacy for a return to the nurturing of creativity in our classrooms, and also with Daniel Pink’s (2013) call for schools to allow students to engage in “uncommissioned works” where constraints of time, process and assessment are removed to provide autonomy for genuine learning.

The potential value for all schools in adopting a Maker Learning model is obvious; it’s a model relevant to twenty-first century learning and teaching. The value of such a model for boys’ schools in particular is even more obvious, with the practical hands-on and technology focus of Maker Learner providing  a natural fit with the learning styles of many boys ( Cox, 2011; Reichert & Hawley, 2010).

*Note: The Trustees approved Maker learning as the topic for the IBSC Action Research Program in 2014-2015.

REFERENCES

Anderson, C. (2012). Makers: The new industrial revolution. Crown Business: New York.

Chang, S. (n.d.). Ed and the Maker Movement: Old technology is new again.  http://edtechhandbook.com/landscape/edu-maker-movement/.

Cox, A. (2011). Locating significance in the lives of boys. International Boys’ Schools Coalition. http://www.theibsc.org/page.cfm?p=1536

Martinez, S. & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press: Torrence, CA.

Pink, D. (2013). The importance of purpose. Edutech Conference. 3-4 June, 2013, Brisbane, Australia.

Reichert, M. & Hawley, R. (2010). Reaching boys, Teaching boys: Strategies that work, and why. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Robinson, K. (2013). Creativity in schools. Edutech Conference. 3-4 June, 2013, Brisbane, Australia.

Santo, R. (2013). Is Making Learning? Considerations as education embraces the Maker Movement.  http://empathetics.org/2013/02/12/is-making-learning-considerations-as-education-embraces-the-maker-movement/

ADDITIONAL SOURCES

Dougherty, D. (2011). We are all makers. http://www.ted.com/talks/dale_dougherty_we_are_makers.html

Gershenfeld, G. (2005). FAB: The coming revolution on your desktop–from personal computers to personal fabrication. Basic Books: New York.

Gerstein, J. (2013). STEAM and Maker Education: Inclusive, engaging and self-differentiating. http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/tag/maker-education/

MAKE Magazine. http://makezine.com/

Samtani, H. (2013). Meet the Makers: Can a DIY movement revolutionize how we learn? School Library Journal.

http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/06/k-12/meet-the-makers-can-a-diy-movement-revolutionize-how-we-learn/

van Gelder, S. (2013). makerspaces: Creative hotbeds of experimentation. http://blogs.learnquebec.ca/wordpress-mu/blog/2013/03/makerspaces/

Watters, A, (2012). Top Ed-Tech trends of 2012: The Maker Movement. http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/hack-higher-education/top-ed-tech-trends-2012-maker-movement

Wheeler, S. (2013). Maker Culture as a learning model. http://teachinghumans.com/maker-culture-as-a-learning-model/


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Looking for learning in all the wrong places

Although this is my last post for my VICPLN13 course, I’m going to make sure that my blogging doesn’t stop here. Admittedly I do struggle to find the time to blog in between all the other things going on in my life–amongst them a commitment to be an active member of the Twitterverse–but I have enjoyed sharing my learning journey and revisiting it through this blog. It’s kind of like picking up an old photo album and reminiscing!

To summarise my journey through the PLN course, I used Storybird–a digital tool that was new to me–to create an online picture book. The thing I love about Storybird is that the images unlock the story, rather than the traditional arrangement in story creation where the words precede the images. It sends a nice message to students that images can be as powerful as words.

Storybird

Here’s the link to my story, ‘Looking for Learning’. Once it’s been moderated by the Storybird administrators I’ll embed it here. If you want to understand my blog post title you’ll need to watch it!

PS. A bit of searching and I’ve found that Storybird stories can’t be embedded into WordPress.com blogs. The link shall have to suffice 🙂

And if you’re interested in learning how to create a story using Storybird, here’s a short screencast recorded using Jing and edited in Camtasia Studio (which I have to say was a totally new and fun experience). I signed up for Camtasia’s free 30-day trial, but I’m so impressed I think I might have to buy it. The Jing-Camtasia Studio-Screencast combo works a treat! Only problem is, the video won’t embed… I’ll keep trying to find a fix. Aha,,, after a few hours of trying to embed the video directly from Screencast.com (it seems it’s a common problem) I uploaded it to You Tube and then inserted it here. Wish I’d thought of that earlier… all a learning exercise! It made me think though… we don’t give students enough time to work things out. Let’s ditch the notion of the 6-period day!!

PS… sorry about the pop-up message that appears. I wasn’t even aware of it until I looked at my finished video 😦

And thanks so much to the VICPLN13 team. It didn’t seem to matter what time or day it was, you were always there to lend a hand 🙂


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On the shoulders of giants…


Shoulders

Shouders of Giants by David Goehring (CC Flickr)

Last week I attended the EduTech conference in Brisbane–a huge affair with over 3000 delegates! Keynote speakers included some of the “giants” in contemporary educational thinking such as Daniel Pink, Ken Robinson, Stephen Heppell, Alan November, Gary Stager, Ewan McIntosh and our own Stephen Harris. Whilst there, my guilt about not having completed my VICPLN “homework” abated somewhat as I realised what a great opportunity I’d been given to “stand on the shoulders of giants” (Isaac Newton) and reflect on what it means to be a 21C teacher and learner. Here’s my brief take on what the giants had to say:

Daniel Pink:
Pink drew on Science to offer some thoughts about motivation. The three key motivators for enduring performance, said Pink, are:

    • Autonomy: We engage in an activity when we’re required to get there under our own steam, and we engage when we’re required to do non-commissioned work (i.e. work that is not constrained)
    • Mastery and Feedback: Making progress depends on feedback and feed forward
    • Purpose: People need purpose to do something better

And the biggest takeaway: The notion of “FedX days” (aka “Ship-it” days or “innovation Days”) where teachers and students are given time to do whatever they want–to do “non-commissioned” work. But whatever work is produced, must be shared with others.

Just came across this fantastic video tweeted by @medkh9 to illustrate the difference in creativity between commissioned and non-commissioned work in a 3rd grade classroom. The video’s creator , Elad Segev, invites viewers to try the same project and send him the results.

Ewan McIntosh:
The gist of McIntosh’s presentation is encapsulated in this video he showed:

And McIntosh’s advice for learners?

  • Be curious
  • Listen to yourself
  • Humble is cool
  • Good energy is infectious
  • Find a way

And the implicit advice for teachers?

  • Don’t take away students’ opportunities for creativity and curiosity
  • Provide periods of time for “design thinking”–periods of deep immersion in an idea
  • Give learning back to students
  • Let students find the problem (by asking ‘Why am I doing this?”) and the solution
  • Link learning to Claxton’s  pillars of learning: challenge, collaboration, responsibility, real things, choice, curiosity.

Teach students it’s okay to:

F – first
A – attempt
I – in
L – learning

MAKE CREATIVITY SIZZLE!

Here’s a presentation by Ewan McIntosh delivered in January this year at the International Conference on Thinking. It’s long, but it’s the next best thing if you didn’t make EduTech.

Stephen Harris:
For schools to change, vision, strategy and resources must align. Shape the learning culture at every level.

  • Collaborate
  • Take risks
  • Question everything
  • Do, then ask (Icelandic mantra)
  • Grow a team who understand paradigm shift
  • Create the vision together

Harris’ full presentation can be downloaded from his blog.

Harris

Gary Stager: Stager is an education revolutionary leading the charge of the Maker Movement into classrooms around the world. Riding on the educational theories of Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky and Papert, Maker Learning is “learning by doing.” It’s not a new concept–children have been “making” for eons, but what sets the “new” maker learning apart is the incorporation of digital technologies which enable the reanimation of traditional forms of “making.”  Check out Sylvia’s Mini Maker Show to see what an 8 year-old maker is doing.

Maker
Image: Teachers as Makers Academy New York (ISKME cc Flickr)

Maker learning in the classroom blurs the boundaries between subjects, and the boundaries between academic and vocational activities. The best projects, noted Stager, “push up against the persistence of reality… they create memories, and that’s the core of our business.” When designing projects for students, aim for:

  • brevity (your question should fit on a post-it note)
  • ambiguity (give students a choice in how they address the problem)
  • freedom from assessment (remember, prescription kills creativity)

Stephen Heppell

His main points:

  • Return the trust to the students
  • Giving students identical projects is like giving them identical haircuts
  • introduce kids to technology EARLY
  • Make learning spaces playful
  • And for teachers: “If we don’t believe it [the power of technology], who the hell will!”

Heppell

Alan November:

A great classroom is one where you can remove the teacher and the learning continues

November advocates that technology hasn’t been the change agent we hoped for; that we haven’t learnt how to kick-start the “expensive stuff” and  the dominant use of digital technologies continues to be as a $1000 pencil! So how do we use technology to make learning more effective? November says:

  • Change the purpose of work to make it more meaningful
  • Let students pose the questions
  • Apply knowledge in a context
  • Flip the classroom – let students do the talking, the challenging

Ken Robinson

Sir Ken

A very impressive presentation for someone who had to deliver it at 2am local time!

The purposes of education:

  • Economic
  • Cultural
  • Social engagement
  • Personal

The principles of improving education:

  • Create a climate of possibility in which people flourish
  • Recognise diversity
  • Nurture creativity
  • Recognise that life is organic and non-linear

Finding your element (the title os SKR’s new book):

  • Do something that you are good at
  • Do it with passion and your energy will be lifted

A final Edutech thought:

This conference was not about technology. It was about learning! For more resources on the conference, check #edutech on Twitter.

Characteristics of the 21C Learner
So where have these giants taken me in terms of identifying five (let’s make that six)  characteristics of a 21C learner? And what role can digital technologies play in each of these? Here’s my list:

Creative: This has to be at the top of the list, and serves as an umbrella characteristic for the other six characteristics noted here. Traditional understandings of creativity consider it a “special” quality possessed by eminent individuals, especially those in the arts. More recent understandings of the term, however, adopt a wider stance and view creativity as something possessed by all individuals and capable of being expressed in all areas of human endeavour. For many, Ken Robinson touched a sensitive nerve when he declared that traditional educational settings stifle creativity in schools. The creative process, he notes, is so often constrained in a world of high-stakes assessment, outcome-driven curricula, and rigid school structures and schedules.

It’s broadly acknowledged that the use of digital technologies can foster creativity by enabling users to think and act in ways that have been previously inaccessible or non-existent. Digital technologies provide new tools, media and environments that enable individuals and groups to build and share knowledge in ways that support exploration, play, risk- taking, collaboration and reflection. And then of course, there’s the sheer ability of digital tools to engage and motivate learners. But, as Elad Segev’s video above suggests, access to all the technology in the world wont’t foster creativity if the the parameters of a project place too many constraints on the learner.

Flexible: Learning is iterative and circular. It really is all about the journey and not the destination. The 21C learner needs to be prepared to wander down dark alleys, rest awhile to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going, maybe go back to the start and try a different path, and basically enjoy the sights and sounds at every twist and turn. Digital technologies provide a wide range of “travel options” for learners. They can take learners further and faster; they can help learners meet fellow “travellers” and offer myriad ways to share  and create travel stories.

Curious: Simply put, you can’t learn if you’re not curious; curious about “How can I use this information?” “Why am I learning this?” Rote learning is not learning; it’s regurgitation. Listening isn’t learning until you convert it to something personal–and that won’t happen until you’re curious. So how can ICT help the curious learner? Well, it certainly makes for a much deeper rabbit hole, and a rabbit hole that one can explore anytime, either alone or in the company of others. And no matter where a learner is (within reason) their personal rabbit hole can be right there in their pocket.

Passionate: As the decisions on what to learn, how to learn and the ways in which learning can be demonstrated shift onto the learner, self-drive–or passion–becomes a prerequisite for learning. Whilst curiosity might light the  learning fire, passion will fan the flames and keep the learning going . So where do digital technologies fit into this? Like anything, “variety is the spice of life” and the enormous range of ways in which a learner can discover, create and share using digital technologies can keep the passion alive by engaging and motivating learners.

Collaborative: My recent EduTech experience was a great reminder that learning together can be so much more powerful (and fun) than learning alone. There’s no way that I could have left the the conference with a record of all the gems of wisdom I wanted to revisit at my leisure. But thanks to digital technologies I now have that record. The Twitterstream, Twitter aggregators such as Storify, and delegates’ blog posts have helped me create my conference quilt that I shall snuggle into over the next few weeks.

Intellectually courageous: Although this comes at the end of my list, I believe this characteristic is perhaps the quintessential one. Creative ideas are often the product of intellectual risk-taking; of continuing down the path without knowing what lies around the corner, or in fact, without even caring what’s there. It’s a characteristic that lies at the heart of Michael Schrage’s “serious play”- the notion that underpins my own learning and which inspired the name for this blog. The digital landscape provides a perfect playground for the intellectually courageous learner. There are endless opportunities to try new things in new ways. As well, the collaborative nature of digital technologies enable learners to take risks in supportive environments where feedback and feedforward are offered.

And what did I learn whilst writing this blog post?

  • I couldn’t have done it without the support of those in the Twitterverse who kept the #edutech backchannel buzzing and who provided me with a wonderful summary of the conference.
  • To embed a video in a WordPress blog just paste the link and then unlink it. WordPress will do the rest!
  • To stop unwanted text appearing next to images, change the image alignment to “none.”
  • My next-to-no knowledge of coding is improving on a “need-to-know” basis. It’s something I’m going to keep working on!


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Searching for substance, or is it CRAP?

Part 1: Which search engine?

It only took 0.23 seconds for Google to provide me with just over 40 million hits to  my search on “graphic novels.” I was going to say that’s less time than a blink of an eye, but then I wasn’t really sure just how long that is, so that was my next search. Despite some variance in how long a blink is, it would seem that Google did in fact produce results in less than the 0.33 second blink-time that I found on one site. I think we take it for granted these days, but when you think 40 million results were found in less time than it takes to blink it’s pretty amazing! What puzzles me though is that when I did this same search about three weeks ago (yes, I started this PLN task some time ago) I got over 55 million hits on exactly the same search term. Why is that? I can’t believe that 15 million sites on graphic novels have been sucked into cyberspace since then.

I also wondered if using the speech facility in Google to do a search would yield different results. After some previous experience with voice-to-text software that obviously didn’t think I could speak English, I suspected the results would be different. Well, the top ten hits at least were the same, but there was no indication of how many results there were or how long it took to get them. I can only say it  seemed as quick as the written search, and I’m not really interested in how many million results there are as I probably wouldn’t look beyond the first 50 or so results.

In terms of the actual results that came up, as is the norm when searching through Google, Wikipedia came in at the top of the list, followed by a mish-mash of commercial, educational, and organisational sites. Since I’m particularly interested in information about graphic novels in education, I added a domain search (by adding Site:.edu) to “graphic novels.” That certainly narrowed things down to just 120 000 results (yes, that’s still a lot). So now a trip over to change the “Any” option just above the “hit list” to Reading Level and then Advanced, and I’m really cooking with gas in terms of finding some quality academic articles about graphic novels. Again, there is no indication of how many hits there are, other than saying it’s 37% of the original 120 000 hits. Using the Google search bar as a calculator, I soon found out that equates to around 44 thousand hits. Time to start looking at what other search engines can do.

Bing brought up just over 2 million results with Wikipedia again topping the list and the remainder of the first page looking similar to what Google had to offer. Adding “site:.edu” brought up 68 thousand results, a lot less than the Google offering and no option to further reduce it by reading level. Onward to try something else…

I guess I’ve been put off in the past using DuckDuckGo because of its rather silly name. However, I gave it a go and, apart from it yielding useful results, there are some features that I found really appealing: the options to change the privacy of my search history; the clean, ad-free interface, the absence of page breaks (so none of that annoying “next”), and the provision on the sidebar of tips and tricks such as search syntax options, keyboard shortcuts etc. I just think I might be returning to dive into DuckDuckGo a little more often!

Last but not least, it was time to try a visual search engine. I’ve tried instaGrok before and wasn’t a fan, but in the name of Vicpln13 I made a return visit. I knew it was a mistake. All those floating balls made me woozy. Whats more, a look at the glossary section to see their definition of “comics” as “Comics is short for \”comic strips\”, usually a section in a newspaper” and I knew this was no place for me to source material for academic study. Sorry Instagrok, but get your facts right if you want my vote.

One place I will have a bit more of a look around is the PLN course recommendation for the College of DuPage Library website. There’s a good list of search engines (including specialised ones for music, audio, video etc) here that is worth exploring.

Part 2: How do I trust what I  find?

I’ve seen the way students select information–if it’s at the top of the list of search hits, it’s the best source. So how do we move them beyond that mindset? How do we help them learn to be discerning researchers?

In a school that is all-boys until Year 10, the notion of using a CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate websites has a certain appeal for boys, as does using some hoax websites to demonstrate application of the test. A good starting point are the websites that even the novice researcher has to be skeptical about (I hope); sites such as the Aluminium Foil Deflector Beanie and Buy Dehydrated Water.    But what happens when we go to something far more realistic looking (and far more dangerous) such as this website on Martin Luther King Jnr?It looks authentic, the URL seems legitimate, and for all intents and purposes it offers students some historical information about the life of Martin Luther King Jnr. But when the boys apply the CRAP test they soon see otherwise; that this is a site hosted by a group whose racial and religious tolerance is beyond belief. It’s a great lesson about not believing everything they find on the Internet.

So let’s visit a site that we know passes the CRAP test. How easy is it to find all the CRAP information? I’ve toddled over to the website of National Geographic; a site that I often refer to teachers and students. And whilst most people of heard of Nat Geo, it’s still important to establish that this is in fact the “official” National Geographic site. In terms of Currency, the Homepage of the site clearly indicates the site has operated between 2006-2013.  The Daily News section indicates today’s date. As for the site’s Reliability, National Geographic has a world-wide reputation for the presentation of matters pertaining to the physical and human environment. Its statement that it is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world further encourages one to feel that the the site will offer a balanced perspective on issues of a science, geographical and anthropological nature. Re the site’s  Authority, the site carries the Nat Geo logo, has a URL that looks genuine, and has a clearly labelled and accessible ‘About’ section that provides us with the purpose of the National Geographic Society. Regarding the site’s Purpose,or Point of View, the reader can clearly see in the ‘About” section that one purpose of the Nat Geo Society is the “promotion of environmental and historical conservation.” A perusal of the site and the reader can see that this purpose translates to articles and resources that focus on issues such endangered environments and species, urbanisation, etc. One has faith that these issues are provided in a balanced fashion, given the reputation of the Society, and its involvement with education and research. So well done National Geographic–you pass the CRAP Test!


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The power of popplet!

Popplet is a graphic organising tool that can be used to create mind maps, discussion boards, timelines, and storyboards. It can be used at various stages in the research process to plan projects, curate resources (text, image, weblinks, and video), organise resources and deliver presentations. For the latter purpose, it’s a simple, clean alternative to PowerPoint and Prezi that puts the focus back onto content creation rather than on the  “bells and whistles” of delivery. Here’s a quick overview:

Registration with Popplet requires a username, password and email (although no email confirmation of account is required). It’s free (with a limit of 5 popplets per account at any one time), very easy to use, and can be shared for online viewing (via URL, Twitter or Facebook), or editing. A Popplet app is available for iPad and iPhone.

Popplet is a great tool for the classroom. Teachers might post stimulus material to a popplet and then invite students to post their answers or comments by creating popples (individual content boxes). The teacher can then provide feedback via a popple comment function. Teachers might also use popplets to post class notes/resources, subject overviews, or create galleries of student work.

Students can create individual or collaborative popplets, and are able to present their completed projects online as a slideshow, or export them as a jpg or pdf. Popplets can also be embedded into websites. These export options are a useful means to back-up popplets.

As with any online tool, issues of privacy must be considered when Popplet is used for teaching and learning. An advantage of popplet is that, unlike tools such as Facebook, the default privacy setting for Popplet is private, so teachers or students need to take deliberate action to make the popplet “semi-public” to collaborators(by sharing the URL) or “public” for all the world to see.

As well as being very user friendly, Popplet offers support to users via a popplet blog and Facebook. Both offer tips on using popplet, along with technical support. There are also some great examples on the blog of how popplet is being used in classrooms across all grades.

On the home page of the Popplet website there are links to ‘Terms of Service’ and ‘Privacy Policy.’ As can be expected when signing up for a free online service, Popplet users give site owners everything bar the shirts on their backs. That said, at least the ‘Terms of Use’ clearly state how user information will be used. Should a user want to terminate their popplet registration they must make an email request to popplet admin. Popplet is at least up front in saying that such requests will remove the user from future Popplet activity, but will not necessarily remove user information from the site archives.

I particularly like the guidelines provided by popplet that: emphasise the implications for users of making a popplet public; caution users about breaching copyright; advise users to behave ethically; and suggest that users question the authenticity of information provided in popplets.

Whilst Popplet seems such a wonderful tool for classroom use, the Terms of Use stipulate that Popplet administrators are committed to protect the privacy of children, and for that reason, site users must be at least 13 years old. Whilst this would seem to restrict Popplet use to secondary school students, Popplet offers ways around this restriction for teachers wanting to use popplet with younger students.  One such way includes upgrading to a paid “edu” plan.

If you haven’t looked at Popplet, certainly give it a go. I think it has great potential to be used in the classroom in so many different ways by teachers and students.  I’m particularly fond of its presentation mode, which makes a welcome change from Death by PowerPoint and the nausea-inducing nature of Prezi.


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Online communities: Two [or more] heads are better than one!

Telephone Exchange by PhotoAtelier (CCFlickr)

My great grandmother was a member of an online community. Well, maybe not of the type we have today, but one built around those party lines that ran through the telephone exchange in the “old days”. A party line, which enabled a group telephone call, connected people who didn’t have physical access to each other. Sure, the reception wasn’t all that great and the community was a relatively small one, but the benefits were similar to those gained today through membership of web-based communities. Party line participants could share ideas, ask advice and catch up on what was happening beyond their four walls. No doubt for my great grandmother stuck out there in fairly remote outback Queensland in the early 1900s, her online community was a valued part of her life… and so is mine.

My professional world revolves strongly around online communities. Whilst I’m blessed to work in a team environment where I have colleagues for support and advice, it’s not always easy to find a mutual time where we can sit down uninterrupted and talk things through.  Also, I think the more we work together, the more we tend to think the same, and the more we tend to only half-listen to what each other is saying–sounds like we’re married!!  Consequently, we lose the “diversity of opinions” that George Siemens (2005) advocates is so necessary for knowledge creation and learning. Instead of the sparks of creativity being fanned by collective discourse, they often flicker feebly and die through lack of fuel.

To add fuel to my fire I’m having an extra-marital affair with Twitter**(apologies to my colleagues, I hope they’ll forgive me). I rely heavily on my virtual tribe to challenge my thinking and, on a practical level, provide me with great tips, tricks and tools to enhance my professional knowledge and skills.

At a basic level, Twitter functions as my virtual help-desk. I can throw out a “How To” question at virtually any time and someone, somewhere is sure to help me out. It’s also my virtual library where professional readings are shared–no subscription needed! And what is more, these articles often come within the context of a blog post that allows for a discussion of the piece.

And then there’s the functionality of Twitter as a virtual news desk. If I want to pick up breaking news, then Twitter delivers via words, images and videos from many sources (which of course raises the issue of the validity of the info).  Interestingly, in the wake of Boston bombings yesterday, there was a segment on Today Tonight, The pros and cons of social media, that reported the way in which social media have changed the face of news reporting. Of particular interest were the comments surrounding the ability of social media to bypass censorship by the Fourth Estate.

Whilst my access to the above functions of Twitter is self-determined–I interact when it suits–I also use Twitter more formally as a virtual classroom by participating in organised, subject-specific Twitter chats. These chats are held at scheduled times and are usually scaffolded around a number of predetermined questions or topics. One person usually moderates the discussion to keep it focused. Two of my favourite chats are #ozengchat and #PhDchat. If I can’t make the chat, it’s easy enough to track the discussion by a search on the chat hashtag. Check out this list of weekly chat times compiled by @thomascmurray and @cevans5095 (we need the Australian version of this).

‘And then there were two’ by anujd89 (CCFlickr)

I like to leave my professional and personal footprints on different paths… it makes life easier if I’m using my social media with students and colleagues. So while Twitter is my preferred weapon of instruction, I use Facebook primarily to keep in touch with family and friends (although I have created a second FB account to use professionally for the PLN course).  I find Facebook’s layout makes it more suited as a journal or photo album in which to record memories. That’s not to say I wouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom… if only I could! Despite,however, the wonderful suggestions from David Herstein in How schools can use Facebook to build an online community, many schools, including my own, continue to block student access to social media.

Chubby Soapbox by daretoeatapeach (CCFlickr)

Chubby Soapbox by daretoeatapeach (CCFlickr)

And that prompts me to climb onto my soapbox! The minute we “ban” students from something/anything, we’re sending a message that we don’t value it as a teaching and learning tool. We’re also being condescending by signalling that we don’t think our students are mature enough to decide (or learn) what qualifies as appropriate use and what doesn’t. Well that’s easily fixed! Let’s give them the keys and some driving lessons so that they don’t crash their social media! Let students be social media “learners” in the safety of the classroom, where a driving instructor can help them learn the rules, navigate the twists and turns, and interact appropriately with other drivers. There’ll probably be some minor dings, but chances are driver training will help students avoid the high speed social media crashes which can cause permanent injury.

** My Twitter name is @dilaycock