Slice of Life: On the Charles

(This is part of the Slice of Life writing activity at Two Writing Teachers)

I woke up this morning, my brain still running with thoughts from a conference I am attending around technology and learning, and I drew open the shades of my hotel room. There, before me, lay a most beautiful and tranquil scene. The Charles River. My hotel here in Boston overlooks the Charles and I don’t know how I got so lucky to have a room on the ninth floor overlooking this river that weaves through the city, but I am not complaining. I get up early most days anyway and the orange tint of the sunrise glittered on the Charles this morning. Even at that hour, there were a few boats already sailing. Last night, as I strolled to the hotel from the conference, there were teams of rowers — full Regatta-style longboats cruising down the river as a team, all oars in motion together as the voice of the leader echoed out across the top of the water — gliding across the surface of the water. Across the river from me, there are a few majestic brick buildings that make up Boston University and at night, the lights of Fenway Park are visible in the distance. It’s a nice way to wake up and get the day started here in Boston.

Peace (in the slice),

New Literacies: Day One

Here is my reflective Voicethread around the New Literacies Institute taking place here in Massachusetts. Each day, I am adding a podcast reflection. Thanks to Gail and Heidi for adding some thoughts and questions to my preconference podcast. I invite you to add your thoughts and questions to the thread.

Here is a short video I made around our work on defining New Literacies, where tables in the room tried to symbolize their view of New Literacies.

Peace (in the sharing),

Mass New Literacies: Pre-Conference Meet-up

I just posted some thoughts about the preconference meeting of the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute on this voicethread. I’ll add thoughts each day and re-embed. Please add your own thoughts to the thread, if you want. The institute begins this morning, so … getting ready.

Peace (in the thread),

Threading My Voice at the New Literacies Institute

I have decided to try to use Voicethread for reflecting on the coming week in the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute here in Boston. I encourage you to add your thoughts, or questions, or reactions to my own thinking as I go along, and I will try to answer and respond as best as I can. Each day, I will add a new page to the Voicethread and re-embed it here at the blog.

Peace (in the thread),

Off to the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute

nliToday, I head to Boston for the first activities around the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute that is being sponsored by our Massachusetts Department of Education and run by the New Literacies Collaborative of NC State. The agenda for the week is pretty chock full of interesting elements that seem to run the gamut from theoretical underpinnings of what we mean when we talk about literacy in the 21st Century to exploration of sites and tools that might have some value to the 100-plus teachers who are coming to the week-long event.

There is also a lot of inquiry work that will be going on as teachers will be delving into topics and exploring them, and planning out activities for the coming school year (there are a few follow-up sessions during the year) so that they don’t just leave the event and leave what they have learned behind in Boston.

I am one of ten teacher-leaders at the institute, which seems to mean that I will partnering up with one of the main presenters and speakers, and working as a partner/conduit with small groups of teachers. I can’t help but notice on the list of the other teacher-leaders that only two of us are classroom teachers right now. Most are instructional technology coordinators and a number of them have past classroom experience. I am looking forward to meeting with them tonight for a pre-planning session and dinner.

As you may note, this is entitled “teacher leader” institute because schools and districts are sending teams of teachers, who will in turn bring ideas back to schools to share with colleagues. The idea, I think, is that change is more apt to happen when you have your own network to turn to in your own school. We want to avoid the “isolation” factor when it comes to pushing people forward.

So, I wonder: who are these Massachusetts teachers on their way to Boston?

I imagine there is a group who are right now ready to push ahead with technology integration and need a helping hand; there is likely a group of people who are already beyond the aspects of the institute; there is no doubt a group of teachers pressured by their principals and superintendent to take part because the institute has to do with technology and that buzzword can’t be ignored; and I suspect there folks who already feel overwhelmed when they look at the packed agenda for the week and may feel like quitting on Day One.

I hope we can reach most of these folks. In particular, we need to focus on those teachers who need a little push forward but are ready and we need to help those folks who are sort of interested in dipping their toes into technology but don’t know where to begin. These two groups form the crux of a movement because they can become real role models for colleagues.

One of the keys will be the balance between deep theoretical discussions about the issues around 21st Century literacy and providing time to work with the tools we are talking about. I like that they have built in periods to play with some “cool tools.”  On the list are sites like Glogster, Google Lit Trips, Voicethread, Apple Remote Desktop, Twitter, Jing, Xtranormal,  Zotero and more. I am a little worried that these sessions are only for 45 minutes, which is not nearly enough time for a presenter to introduce a concept, get folks playing and then reflect on possibilities for the classroom. That last piece is critical and one that we often forget in the rush to the door.

I’ll be trying to blog and tweet and do all of that as much as I can — I may even set up a Voicethread and open it up to all of you. I did set up a Twitter Newspaper through a site called for the New Literacies Event. It refreshes every morning.

Head to the New Literacies Newspaper

And there is a Twitter hashtag for collecting tweets from the event.

Go to the #nli10 hashtags

Peace (in the journey),

My Seemingly Chaotic Classroom

Two things happened yesterday that had me reflecting on my classroom environment as a learning space.

First, I was in the midst of a low-stakes evaluation by my principal, who is very supportive of my work around technology and writing. We got to the point in our new rubric around classroom management and here is what I had running through my head: my students right at that moment, sitting all around the classroom, laptops in hand, writing their Make Your Own Adventure stories while chatting away, helping each other out. Some were no doubt fooling around. Others were intensive focused.

My room is often sort of chaotic, but in a good way (I think). My students are active learners in whatever we are doing — whether it is tech work, or making and performing puppet plays, or doing collaborative activities. It’s not the ELA class that I grew up in. We don’t sit still for very long. And while it may seem to outsiders that there is no method to the madness, there indeed is. I am always in tune to student dynamics, always encouraging students to help others when help is needed, always engaged in mini-lessons in small groups that then filter out to the whole, always pushing students to take risks beyond their comfort zones.

My principal looked at the evaluation rubric and acknowledged that my class is not the traditional class and that makes it difficult sometimes to find the right substitute teacher when I am out. I don’t give my students busywork at their desk for an hour. Even when I am not there, I expect creativity to be happening. Then, my principal said that he liked the engagement of the students, the energy level of the activities and he gave some praise to me in this area that I often consider a possible weakness in my teaching. That was nice to hear.

A few hours later (same scene: students, with laptops, writing around the room on a wiki), a family of  potential School Choice students comes into my classroom on a tour of our school. Yeah, it’s a bit noisy and active, and the school’s administrative assistant who is acting as host explains that she wanted the family to see technology in the school on both ends of the spectrum (I think they were down in kindergarten first? Gail?). I can’t tell what the parents are thinking as I say hello — they seem to be trying to take in exactly what the heck is going on in this sixth grade classroom — but I could tell what the kids in tow were thinking: “We want to join in on the activity, whatever it is!”

So, yeah, my idea of classroom management is allowing for movement and voices and some chaos, and I still every day try to find the balance between students listening and learning, and students engaged and active. Some days, I am more successful at that balance than others. It doesn’t always work and it doesn’t always work for some students. I adapt as I go. Some days, I wish I were a traditional teacher with a traditional classroom. Then, there wouldn’t be so much noise. But I don’t think there would be as much creative exploration, either.

And I can’t imagine doing things any other way and getting the same results from my young writers and composers.

Peace (amidst the chaos),

The wiki story goes this way? or That way?

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Yesterday, on my last day with my students (before I head off to the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute), most of them finished their Make Your Own Adventure Stories. I’ve written about this project for a few days but we used Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a writing prompt and then we used our classroom Wikispaces site to create stories with “branches” that the reader chooses. I have noticed that this writing activity has really sparked some critical thinking skills and basic Internet skills, too, such as how to use  a wiki and how to create hyperlinks and navigation of text.

I wish I had two more class periods with them (note to self: this project takes about 5 or 6 class periods to accomplish) because I could tell a good number of students really needed a bit more time. They were all working so hard on their writing yesterday, which is something to see at the end of the year for 12 year olds.

I now wish I had been able to have them move the images from the prompt they chose (the Mysteries book is a series of illustrations and captions, and the stories are “missing”) into their stories. Right now, it is all text driven. Another cool possibilities: what if they could have added a podcast (of the story or a mysterious introduction?) or a video? Some things to ponder for the future.

Anyway, here are a few of the stories that did get completed:

Peace (in the many branches of imagination),

Psycho-analyzing My Tweets

There are sorts of strange data engines popping up from time to time, and this one — called TweetPsych — supposedly presents a psychological profile of a Twitter account based on their tweets. I figured, what the heck … (and I did not have to give them my password, which always stops me cold in my browsing tracks)

The site’s study of me shows that I tweet a lot about learning, and media, and seem to reference “time” a lot (as in, I don’t have enough?). On the low end, I don’t tweet enough about sex and thinking and work (although, that would be learning for me, right?).

See my full report.

Peace (on the couch with the virtual shrink),

Kevin (aka @dogtrax)

Can I blog a complaint?

My son is a sixth grader in a district where I don’t teach, so I always try to pry info out of him about what he is up to (no small feat, with a 12 year old boy). I’m interested, and yes, sort of competitive, too.  Yesterday, I asked him how his six-week “exploratory” block in technology went for him. My question came on the heels of his shocking (to me) remark that “Tomorrow, we get to play video games on the computers for 48 minutes.”

Now, I know that 12 year olds are not always that reliable for the entire tale, so I listened to him explain what they did for six weeks. But even after some thorough grilling, it became clear that “technology” is the wrong word for this exploratory block.

They learned some typing skills and, as he said, “He taught us how to do shortcuts in Microsoft Word …. and we played online games.”

And then, “Oh, he showed us how to put an image in Word. But we all already knew how to do that.”

“And if you didn’t, it would take you … what …. five seconds to figure it out?” is what I muttered back.

Shortcuts for Word? That’s technology in the classroom? I am beside myself with frustration that this is the best exposure to technology offered to a sixth grader? I’ll bet that curriculum is 10 years old and hasn’t changed a bit since then. What about creating? Composing? Publishing? Exploring (not games)? Web 2.0? There is a movement underway, folks, and if you can yourself a technology teacher, you better get on board.

I do show my own children a lot of technology (although I should write about that someday now that he is entering the ‘Can I have a Facebook’  phase and we try –not always successfully — to balance access to our technology with limited screen time). Here at home, we make movies, create music and do more than most, I am sure.

But what about those other kids who don’t have parents who are teachers into technology? What about them? Shortcuts and image placement in Word is the best we can do for them? I’d even be happy if the gaming was them inventing their own games or something of value. Instead, they are going to sites that are probably bombarded with advertisements in order to play a simplistic flash game.

Peace (in a huge sigh),