Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Modern Learner

"In the abundant world in which we now find ourselves, transformation in schools must be about empowering learners to organize their own learning and about delving deeply into the subjects that interest them, to live on a “perpetual learning curve.” Those are the skills they need to be successful learners in their adult lives. The emphasis shifts from knowing to learning."

Here is my visual interpretation of what Will Richardson calls the perpetual learning curve of the modern learner. I have no scientific basis for this graphic other than the influence of co-learners (PLN contributors) like Will Richardson, Jackie Gerstein, Jon Andrews, Aaron Davis, George Siemens, Yong Zhao, Stewart HaseAlan November, and many others.


Edutopia, Rebecca Alber

Edutopia, John Larmer

Edutopia, Josh Weisgrau

Edutopia, Mirjam Schoning

Edutopia, Beth Holland

Friday, June 26, 2015

Connections and Connectedness

"I have also been learning by experiencing the world. Through interacting with people from many different places I am beginning to understand about cultures different than mine as well as how they see themselves and me in their worldview." - Caleb Silverman

This is our fifth trip back to Secrets St. James. My wife and I use these yearly trips to disconnect from the daily grind, while creating opportunities for face-to-face, high-quality connecting. Walks on the beach, quiet dinners, and sitting by the pool are the backdrops for sharing stories, reflecting upon our previous year, and making plans for future adventures.

Natalie said, "These palm trees are new. They're so green, and beautiful. Are those orange or mango trees?"

I pointed out new roofing and fresh paint, she noted the new patio furniture and the pineapples at the fresh fruit stand. It was then she noticed the white panels installed on the roofs of the main buildings, as well as, the tops of the gazebos and out buildings. 

"What are those things?", she asked.

"I am pretty sure they're wi-fi antennas.", I said.

We quickly pulled out our iPhones to check the wi-fi settings. High fives in celebration of our Jamaican home, now blanketed with high speed wireless internet connectivity! Facetime, Pinterest, and Twitter could now be part of our poolside chats!


During the past few days, I finished reading the informative and interesting book, "What Connected Educators Do Differently" on my iPad, I've Facetimed with my parents, and I have written and published this post, all while resting beneath the wireless router strapped to a palm tree adjacent to our pool chairs. Shade and wi-fi coverage in one! I've tweeted with my PLN (personal learning network), shared posts to my Flipboard magazines, and posted pictures to my Flickr albums. 

My wife is reading about local foliage and recipes, sharing information to Pinterest, and posting pictures to her Facebook wall. We are connected educators, so learning and sharing are embedded in our daily routines. We are not alone, every person we see on the beach or at the pool today has either a cell phone or tablet with them. In fact, the resort checks-out iPads to patrons who would like to use one during their stay.

You may be wondering if our digital connections are lessening the quality of our vacation experiences. Our answer is not at all. In fact, our vacation experiences have been enhanced by a few key aspects of our digital connectedness.

First, we are able to stay in contact with several of our favorite friends here at Secrets St. James. This makes our face-to-face time more enriching and personal. We celebrate personal and family milestones, discuss politics and economics, and we discuss ways to stay connected and help each other in the coming months. In short, we learn from each other.

Second, we have the peace of mind from knowing that staying connected with loved ones back home is just a few taps away on our mobile devices. Severe weather and heavy rains back in Illinois have caused us to "check-in" more frequently than we normally would while on vacation. In addition, we are able to share pictures and video with folks who we wished could be here with us. We share our learning experiences transparently.

Third, when we encounter new plants, cultural interests, or just when our inquiry takes over, we have Google to help us find information and content. Our personal classrooms are constantly changing. Digital connections support our anywhere, any time desire to learn. We are not motivated by letter grades or financial gain, but by our curiosity, and our willingness to share what we are learning. Everyone's a teacher, and everyone's a learner in our personal, one-room, world-wide classroom.

With all of these positive connections surrounding us, it's becoming increasingly apparent that we need to make conscienctious decisions about when we connect virtually versus our in-person connections. With technological change occuring so rapidly the norms have yet to be firmly established. Once again, it's connections and communication that will help us establish etiquette and expectations when it comes to appropriate practices for connecting.

"Educators who spend a significant amount of time connecting with others beyond the walls of their own workplace realize that they are models for the colleagues and the students with whom they interact. They realize that part of digital citizenship is knowing not only when and how to connect, but also when and how to unplug." - What Connected Educators Do Differently

Time for us to stroll the beach again. I'm leaving my iPad in our pool bag, for now. But, I leave you with these unanswered questions; "Why are digital connections essential to learning?" "When are the appropriate times to digitally disconnect?", and "How can the intrinsic joy of our informal learning become more frequently embedded in our formal learning environments?" Thanks for reading. As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.

References

What Connected Educators Do Differently - Todd Whitaker, Jimmy Casas, and Jeff Zoul



Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Make Homeroom Sizzle With Schoology

Following a successful pilot, we are heading into our third year of having a student advisory (homeroom) section built into our daily high school class schedule. Our principal, and our school leadership team, have clarified student and staff rationale for having a homeroom at our school. The key objectives include; 
  • Initiate and foster long-term collegial relationships between students and staff
  • Promote a culture of learning and academic achievement
  • Increase attendance rates and participation rates for school activities
  • Preservation of face-to-face instructional time
  • Scheduled support of PBIS messages and activities
Two years of commitment from students and staff have yielded positive results from our homeroom initiative. Participation in extracurricular activities has increased, discipline referrals have decreased, and academic achievements are being celebrated with greater frequency. Despite these successes, some of our students and teachers are asking, "Couldn't we be making a greater impact with our homerooms?" The answer is yes, and this is where Schoology, our LMS program, comes to the rescue! Here are three features within Schoology that will help us make our homerooms sizzle.


  • Updates - Our homeroom section is only eleven minutes long, which rarely leaves time to get all of the announcements and reminders sent out, let alone gather opinions from thirty or more students. Schoology updates appear as notifications and communication strings on our students' iPads. 


Update messages can be enhanced with files, links, audio comments, and polls. Updates can be school-wide, or course / group specific. Parents who have joined the Schoology courses or groups receive the same updates as their child. Flipping the announcements and reminders permit teachers and students to have more meaningful interactions during homeroom time. With notifications being set to either SMS (text) or email messages, classroom communication gets shared in "real time".



  • Discussions - Our students love to share their voices. With only eleven minutes of homeroom time, Schoology discussions allow the conversations to continue beyond limited face-to-face opportunities in homeroom. Discussions can be assigned individually, to the entire class, or shared to other classes. Discussions can be aligned to learning standards, they can be graded or ungraded, and best of all, discussions can be created to require a comment before seeing the comments of others. Many of our teachers are using discussion boards as ice-breakers to accelerate and enhance classroom conversations. Some students continue discussions, learning from each other, long after their courses have ended.



  • Media Albums - Capture learning when it happens. Schoology media albums are safe repositories for media captured by learners within a course or group. Our students are using their iPads to upload pictures and videos from their photo rolls, or perform live captures right into their course media albums. Captions and comments can be added to pieces within a media album. Items can also be tagged for easy searching within the Schoology course. Once again, parents who follow Schoology courses are able to share in the learning experiences of their child. Sports and clubs use media albums to document and share contests and events. Homeroom teachers are able to create a digital scrapbook of student learning and accomplishments. Since our homeroom teachers stay connected to essentially the same group of high school students for four years, it's easy to see the powerful potential of visually recording and sharing their longitudinal growth.



Our student advisory sections are transforming the culture of our school. Relationships formed in homeroom are helping teachers and students make progress towards school goals. There are other features within Schoology (advisee role, workload planning, and portfolios) that will certainly support our homeroom initiative, but updates, discussions, and media albums are popular, easy-to-use tools that can put more sizzle in the homeroom experience. These tools also provide a practice area for students to become responsible digital contributors. I hear you asking, "If these tools are powerful enough to enhance the homeroom experience, wouldn't they also create empowering opportunities for the students in our regular classes?Hmmm, what do you think?