Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wallisher: Student Response in a Jiffy

Although it seems to have been around for a few years, I just discovered this past week and put it to the test in my English classroom with happy results.

Wallwisher allows you to create a wall (a.k.a. webpage that takes stickynotes by the click of a mouse). Students need not register or login, so you can do this on the fly. Set up your wall with a title, subtitle (maybe a special instruction or focus prompt), graphic, and pick a color design. Name its URL extension and you are ready to have your students point their browsers to it. You may also designate whether comments will be moderated or not (recommended).

It's soooo easy! No need to register students or fuss with passwords.

Since students don't register, they need to type in their names (we use first names and last initials only). Of course, their might be some unwanted guests and students could pose as each other, so I moderated comments. They still have the thrill of seeing their posts immediately, but no one else does until you approve. In addition to 160 character text posts, the stickies will also host images from the web, video, audio, and other media, making this an exciting way for students to collaborate, research, and share information. Conversely, you may embed your wall into a class website, wiki, or Facebook page.

My first go at it was as an asynchronous dialogue of questions and answers related to Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Take a peek here.

I look forward to trying it out when the students have each have a laptop and we can have in class responses to questions as a discussion starter.

After posting the above blog on the English Companion Ning I got plenty of other great tips from colleagues, such as:
  • Brainstorming
  • Student response
  • Polling
  • Reflection
  • Feedback
  • Presentation notes (only 160 characters!)
  • Play scripting/Improvisation
The response from the English teachers has been enthusiastic. If you figure out other ways to use it, I'd be happy to hear.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Planning for Less and More

"Less is more," an aphorism from 20th century architecture may be watchwords for structuring education in the 21st.  Partnership for 21st Century Skills co-chairs, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel present this as a likely principle for curriculum design in their recently published manifesto, 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times.

"A reasonable goal for most education systems moving from a 20th century model to a 21st century one might be 50 percent time for inquiry, design, and collaborative project learning and 50 percent for more traditional and direct methods of instruction."

"It's like déjà vu all over again" Midway in my teaching career, I sense being back to my first years of teaching. Back then praise came for using process-drama units, project-based assignments, and cooperative learning. Nearly 20 years later, I'm wondering if the novice me was so smart or not. Critics of P21 are wondering, too, including

Less maybe more, but the experienced me knows it is also less. I've spent the past 10 years working with colleagues to teach more in cohesive year-long plans. But as digital technology has come of age, the seams are starting to pull again. (Remember our generation never learned about the Vietnam War because our teachers never go to the end of the book; but boy, those Federalist Papers!) E.D. Hirsch would want me to know both, right?

That was 1977. Likewise, this year's curriculum planning is awash. As my income tax goes into the mail, graduation participation forms and summer reading letters are harolding the tide is going out: do what I can and can the rest is the best I can do. My 12th graders have senioritis, the research paper is due this week, our school is mired in state tests, and teachers are on edge about next year's duties (and a lack of collective bargaining).  The curriculum cutting board will be the business of summer. What to cut?

It's not that it's all gold. Or is it?  Seems like even if I taught all if it, muchgood is still missed. The 50% of keepers must not only be essential, but it ideally would bring out the essentials of 50 percent left out. Can we handle that?
Before answering, consider this. While calling for less beadth and more depth, Trilling and Fadel, also want us to enrich the core subjects with what they call "21st century themes." Global awareness, civic literacy, financial literacies, and health awareness are to be woven into the core subjects, while information, media, and ICT literacy are to be part and parcel of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, and contextual learning, plus a slew of nine life and career skills, including ethics, self-direction, and social responsibility. That's a tall order.  Nonetheless who better to rise to the occassion but teachers.  But it sounds like more of more as well as less of less.

Teaching in Pennsylvania, I'm not in a P21 state, but I can see the stars, and someday the standards, lining up.  As states develop standards-aligned systems and the governors come closer on the Common Core, it makes sense that  educators "school thyselves" on this stuff.  Whether you like to think of it as the latest fad, or as the authors and supporters suggest, as "nothing new" if you think of teachers teaching what students need to know to be successful.

So this summer I plan to plan with 50/50% in mind.  Fifty-percent of the traditional, fifty-percent of the inquiry-, performance-, team-, creativity-, project-based learning that are infused with 21st century themes, skills, and digital literacies.Think of it as a mid-summer's road trip, with Trilling and Fadel suggest the model and roadmap, Hirsch making up the sights list and packing a lunch, Ravitch riding in the "been there, done that" back seat, and Richarsdon waving as we pass by a smiling Ken Robinson and the grave of John Dewey. I might end up with 150%.  I'll smile back: "Less is more."

Image credit: Remix of "Fifty Fifty Two." By Jeremy Brooks. 17 June 2009. Flickr.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

On the Job 24/7 with Social Networking

Interview question:  "Let’s say an employer asks to 'friend' you on Facebook. How do you handle that?" The response should tell an employer much about the applicant, right. (Imagine the education version:  "Let's say a student asks to 'friend' you on Facebook. How do you handle that?)

In either case the National Association of Colleges and Employers notes in a recent post that managers and administrators are looking for new-hires with social networking expertise.  I have a hunch they are not looking just at texts-per-minute speeds.  Some jobs, a NACE article points out, may go to those job-seekers with higher contact counts. Knowing how to use social media effectively and safely is becoming a sought after skill.  You need to know how increase sales and decrease scandals.

As social media becomes a normal part of our dealings in all spheres of our lives, the circles we in which we swim become mixed: professional and personal. The many versions of our selves--professional and personal, civic-minded and family-centered--tend to intersect on social networks. Don't we share a side of ourselves with our family that we reserve from our co-workers? How do live authentically on a social network? We needn't fear Big Brother to censor ourselves as much as the fella in the next cubicle as we keep our personal brand up to snuff.

Maybe this is nothing new in the long view. Puritans in colonial towns knew each other's business. Then again, they hanged each other as witches, too.

As teachers, long held to higher standards of civil behavior, we understand personal branding perhaps better than folks whose personal life is more, well, personal.

I have friends, past romances, family, business associates, fellow teachers, former students, and parents of current students among my Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts. I'm figuring how to be diplomatic among disparate groups. So if this teaching thing, doesn't work out, I might at least be up on my social networking skills.

I've got a way to go, though, apparently.  The illustration shows my Friend Wheel, a representation of how and my friends interact on Facebook (on the left), in contrast to another user whose wheel I found proudly posted as on Flickr.

With regard to social networking in the classroom, currently it's difficult to teach our students these skills, especially if schools don't allow mobile phones in class and the school filters knock out social networking sites.  Texting in the restrooms, not smoking, is le crime du jour. Still we ought to discuss these issues.  How to be our best selves and put our best foot forward has always in our purview.  Social networking makes it a skill to be practiced 24/7.

Image credit:  Wheel on the right posted to Flickr by kk+ on 9 July 2007.