Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy New Year! An Early Look Back at 2009.

We are getting close to the time where people begin to look back at the successes and challenges of the last year. Music channels outline the movers and shakers of the year. The movie industry post their biggest earners and their biggest flops.

This blog and the intense exposure to Web 2.0 was a totally new experience for me so I thought I would follow suit and look back at this exciting process. Posting this reflection early will hopefully keep my thoughts from getting lost in a sea of gems like the one below:

Web 2.0 Highlights

1. Creativity - I have never considered myelf to be a creative person. After all, when you are colour blind you try to stay with the basics so people don't laugh at the fact that you colour oceans on maps purple instead of blue (sorry...traumatic childhood moment). Starting this blog has drawn out creativity I didn't know that I had. To be honest, it is hard not to be creative when tools like Blogger, Jing, and GoAnimate (my favourite) are so easy to use and to embed into my blog. As cool as text is by itself, text with video and images is infinitely better. This leads me to my second highlight...

2. Free - If you are a teacher, a librarian or a parent then I don't need to say much more. Once I got over the belief that everything that is free is useless, my experience grew. If you need to do something on the net...there is a free quality tool out there for you.

3. Connections - Social networking is something that every educator should have the opportunity to play with. While I do see challenges such as exposure to inappropriate content, monitoring students and the content they post, etc. (click here for my posting on the subject) the benefits are phenomenal. I would recommend Ning as a place to start as it does provide some management control and the Ning community is ripe with great educational opportunities. For instance, I am participating in an open ended conference with over 650 other people from across the world. Not only do I get to hear from great keynote speakers/bloggers, I can chat with them, ask them for direction, grab resources, and potentially invite them to partipate in my online activities. Beyond this, I am making new connections with highly skilled people with common interests and struggles which means my traditionally closed door classroom is now wide open to fresh eyes and new mentors. If you haven't signed up fo the K12 Online Conference click on my badge on my sidebar. It is amazing and it is FREE.

4. Reality check - I have to be honest. Blogging can be disappointing if you don't see tons of comments on your posts. I began with the belief that my blog, my tweets, my discussion postings meant something to me but not to anyone else. They felt like one way conversations. Just this last week I was proven wrong. One colleague joined the k12 online conference after reading something I posted, another started a Delicious account, and a fellow classmate contacted me by email to share how much she appreciated our online discussions (Thanks Canadanz. Check out her blog here.) The stuff we post can become conversations, can impact peoples lives, and in turn can enhance our own experiences if we give it a chance ( ).

Challenges...not Lowlights

As an educator I try to adhere to the idea that even the darkest moments funamentally will point me to an even brighter future. 2009 definitely proved that to be true....

Challenge 1: Not everything is as easy to do as they say it is.


Challenge 2: Avalanche of information anyone?


Challenge 3: Praying for Time.


Challenge 4: Death by filter.


Where do we go from here?

I said 'we' because my plans will hopefully include entice my family, my colleagues, my region, and my students to join in. What I have in mind I can't do alone.

1. Focus - I am in the middle of choosing the tools I am most passionate about. I don't want to go back to work with 50 great things. Out of all the tools I have used the ones that I feel every teacher in my region should experience are:

a. Social Bookmarking - We are constantly on the move and the amount of luggage we can carry is highly limited. Being able to use anyone's computer to access and share our favourite sites...priceless. While I am using Delicious, I honestly feel Diigo is a strong option that many will love.

b. RSS Feeds and Google Reader - Our isolation means that accessing PD is exceptionally hard. Our community expects a high level of teacher involvement outside of school which means researching in free time is tough. Having a steady stream of personally identified information of interest coming to one spot...priceless. Add this to the potential of having online student work coming to us instead of having to go look for it (Richardson, 2009). Fantabulous.

c. Blogs - I think blogging may be a good first step for many teachers. Our region is focusing on literacy so everyone is looking for engaging ways to engage students in reading and writing. This incentive combined with relatively easy set up procedures and the ability to personalize blogs will be appealing to many. The fact that our email system (First Class) supports a completely in house alternative will also likely be a plus. Using First Class, students could generate blogs safely behind the firewall of our regional network. They get to interact with other students while we get the peace of mind of knowing they are fairly well protected.

d. GoAnimate - This tool is fantastic and it can support our computer courses and our literacy initiatives. Many classes call for storyboarding skills, editing text/video, combining multiple forms of media and other complex skills. GoAnimate is highly accessible to everyone and it allows you to focus on the objectives at hand instead of complicated programming/interfaces. Plus it is wicked cool :)

2. Research - I need to go back with as much information as I can about how schools are already using web 2.0 tools effectively. As mentioned I am part of the k12 online conference. I am actively following "Moving at the Speed of Creativity Podcasts" (you can easily find the following podcasts through iTunes). These podcasts by Wesley Fryer dig into the big picture stuff like why social media (#334), how to develop social media guidelines (#323), designing 2.0 schools (#312)and the steps needed to make technology available to everyone in our schools (#335). These should be mandatory listening for every educational leader.
These podcasts directed me to schools in the states that are totally reinventing how they do school. I am reading up on these schools so I can learn from their mistakes and potentially support changes in my neck of the woods ( Excellent place to start.)

3. Advocate - I have already initiated conversations with key technology people in my region. I have invited them to participate in my learning and I have asked big questions like do we have a five year plan for technology? How can we educate students about online behaviour when the internet is heavily filtered? How can we advocate for creative timetabling to allow staff to play with these effective tools? Can we identify at least one teacher from each school that I can work with to implement these tools to prove their value? It seems to be working as I am being consulted and informed of many exciting developments.

4. Practice -"As a teacher, blogging will have a profound effect on their reading and writing skills. They will be able to get outside feedback and build on their already existing knowledge. They will learn to build their own PLN based on the blogs they follow and the information they learn from those blogs and the links they lead others to and to where they have been." ( It is one thing to read about how things work and another to put things like blogging into action and confirming their value for yourself. My son struggles with writing but he is highly social and loves to learn. He has shown great interest in my blog and I heard him say last week that he wished he had is own blog. Before Xmas I am going to set up a blog with him that he and key people in his life will have access to. This will give an opportunity for me to see if the above claims of blogging are true and I will gain great experience in how to actively manage an elementary student in an online environment. I can't wait.

The End of One Journey...the Start of Another.

This blog entry could go on forever. I don't know when the last time was that I was so excited about possibilities and change. I planned on doing one last GoAnimate entry for 2009 but my internet is very unstable. So I will end this entry with quotes from two inspirational leaders in the Web 2.0 world.

"Level 1 seems to be “getting” that there are all these new tools and technologies out there and that we can now publish all sorts of content really easily. And that kids are already using social networks and that these tools are cropping up more and more in classrooms around the world...Level 2 takes it a step further and implies that “getting it” means that there is some real change involved in what’s happening right now, that it’s not just about tools, but about connections and building learning networks for ourselves and for our students...That to really “get” what the implications of all of this might be, you have to really be willing to really think differently." (Will Richardson)

This summarizes my journey over the last few months. I have gone from merely recognizing the existence of these tools, to understanding that there is some sort of change going on, and now the overwhelming evidence presented to me has forced me to fundamentally change how I view myself, my students, and the way I approach my craft. My experiences have shifted from being fun for me, to being fundamental for the future of my profession (still fun though).

"For the successful learner, learning is not the end -- but the process they use to achieve goals and the feeling of pride and satisfaction in their accomplishments. Learning literally has a different feel for them. It is not just a matter of going to school, listening to the teacher, and completing assignments on time. Not measured Instead, learning springs from within; is felt in their minds and hearts.

The successful learner is someone who learns how to learn in the fullest sense of the word. They are heroes because they have taken their given talents and strengths and combined them with hard work, ambition, attitude to get where they are going.
" (Angela Maiers)

It is easy to see from that quote why Angela is an award winning blogger. Over the last few months I have been a successful learner probably for the first time in least to this degree. Grades never truly entered the picture on this journey. I pushed myself. I participated. I took risks. I communicated through novel modes of communication. I joyously shared everything I did with anyone who would listen. I gleaned from anyone who would communicate with me. I altered my lifestyle and my aspirations based on what I learned. I questioned almost everything. These are all things I wish for my students.

As tough as this journey has been so far, truly submersing myself in Web 2.0 under the guidance and support of the Web 2.0 community has put me in the position of being a learning hero (great term Angela)for my son and my students. I wholeheartedly agree with Angela that "it is only after exploring learning success in a broader sense, that I really understood how to teach students to be successful learners and not just wish it upon them. (Angela Maiers) I hope this understanding spreads like wildfire through my circles of influence.

Next challenge....exploring the psychological, neurological and social impacts of Web 2.0. The new journey begins....

All of my classmates have much to offer but the following people truly helped me through the roughspots and they have much knowledge to share:

Inspirational voices for change: If you haven't signed up already...get in on this conference. This resource alone will leave you set for years in terms of resources and networking opportunities.

Each of the above not only stress the importance of change, they also provide specifics about how to make those changes.

Keeping up with the latest in social media news: Social media, one to one action in schools.