DIY… with a network

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user greeno777

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user greeno777

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks transitioning from the first home we’ve ever owned to what we imagine could be the last one we ever reside in. It’s not a dream home like the ones you see on TV, yet it’s our own little piece of royalty. The move has gone as well as anyone can expect, but I wanted to mention something spicy and educationally pertinent here. A house is almost too ripe for metaphor exploitation, so I’ll try to keep it at a minimum.

We are discovering that the previous owners of our house, a dour and fiery couple of empty nesters, were fairly infamous for their cartoonish grumpiness. Our new neighbours looked relieved to see a new, naive looking young family move in. We weren’t surprised at the former owners’ reputation as we encountered it first hand on our visits to the house before moving in (they almost beat up our home inspector). Basically, it seems you could call them a lot of things, but lacking in pride was not one of them.

The man of the house was so proud of his DIY ability. He installed the garage door opener, new hardwood flooring, and even an old school intercom system, among other things.

“See? Much better, cheaper than contractor,” he asserted with his thick European accent, his chest literally and figuratively puffed out.

Indeed, much of his handiwork was acceptable if not impressive. Except for a few things. Well, one in particular.

We discovered that Mr. I Don’t Need Nobody just happened to have an electrician’s license. And, by ‘license’, I mean the kind my daughter makes using Crayolas and paper. One hack job in particular nearly floored the legitimate electrician we brought in. ‘Fire hazard’ doesn’t cover it.

So it got me thinking about myself and other educators I know. Although I would classify myself as a fool when it comes to home DIY, I simultaneously define my educator self as DIY to the max.

When I first entered the profession, I was constantly befuddled by some colleagues who asserted to me things like: I can’t do x because ‘they’ didn’t provide me with the y; or it’s not possible to do blank because of this, that, and the other.

Why not? I would and still always wonder. There’s always a way to get the resources, tools, or permission needed to do great things in our schools. If no one’s going to help or provide the necessary ingredients, then I’ll just do it myself! Someone’s gotta blaze that trail, right?

In actuality, I believe the majority of teachers and administrators are of this mindset, and it’s a bloody good thing indeed. Most of our schools and classrooms accomplish extraordinary things (often off the radar) solely because of innovative DIY dispositions.

Nevertheless, when I saw that clump of wires in the basement ceiling of our new home, I had a stark reminder that there is a point where a Do It Yourself mentality jumps the shark. At some point, you cross over the line which separates problem solving to prideful arrogance. You can’t always do it yourself, and if you do, you’re going to end up clumping a bunch of electrical circuits together in a manner which is terrifying, if not fire starting (and I don’t mean the good flame).

Some time ago I asked the question of whether tweeting and blogging was for everyone, and I still believe that we need to think critically and contextually about evangelizing ed spaces like Twitter. Still, seeing some of the handy work by Mr. Just Me And My Toolbox On A Deserted Island, I’m ever more firm in my feeling that I can’t do this teaching thing without my face-to-face and avatar-to-avatar crew of education ninjas.

Keep Doing It Yourself… with a network of Do It Yourselfers.

Is Tweeting for Everyone?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Lonics

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Lonics

In the same way that it is not for everyone in our everyday lives, is it not entirely possible that Twitter and blogging legitimately doesn’t apply to all educators? There’s no question that social media spaces can provide small to large benefits to pedagogues, ranging from simple utility to deep transformation respectively. However, who’s to say ?

I don’t know about you, but I have always felt comfortable and content with the idea that, while I myself cannot imagine doing this profession without my beloved learning network, perhaps it’s legitimately silly, if not irrelevant, for another educator.

What do you think: is tweeting for everyone?

Interview with the Teenager

Drake at the Alife Umbro Store

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr umbrofootball

You may remember what an impact Jermaine had on me at a birthday party I attended not long ago. Well, here I go again at another piñata-driven, little tike’s party (the life of a dad with little kids). This time I want to tell you about my fourth (or fifth or sixth or whatever) cousin Alanna. She’s just started grade 10, is as sharp as a tack, has Drake as her Twitter wallpaper, and is just about the coolest teenager you’ll ever meet.

Every time I see her, Alanna has grown taller and more mature. I also see her increasingly immersed in social media environments and, unfortunately, more and more disengaged with schooling. On this day, I noticed her planted in front of my cousin’s iMac for the majority of the party, browsing with three tabs open: Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I just had to interview her.

What are the main social media sites that you use on a regular basis?

Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I used to use Formspring but got tired of it.

Which of the three social media sites did you start on?

I started on Facebook, and then my friend introduced me to Twitter and Tumblr later on.

What’s your favourite thing to do on these sites?

I love posting pictures and looking at other people’s pictures.

What are the similarities and differences between these tools as you see it? Let’s start with Facebook and Twitter.

I just use Facebook to post and look at pictures, and to see what’s going on with my friends. I use Twitter to tweet about stuff that’s happening in my life. It’s kind of like making quotes.

Would you say that the people you interact with on Facebook are different to the ones you tweet with on Twitter?

Um, ya. I’ve never really thought about that before. Most people on Facebook are people I know, but, on Twitter, some are people I know and others are just random, like celebrities.

What’s your favourite thing to do on Twitter?

I like tweeting stuff that happens and turn them into, like, sayings.

Can you give me an example?

Well, say, right now at this party, if something funny happened, like Jackson threw a toy at you and it hit your head? I would tweet that.

(Laughs) So you’re sharing funny aspects of living life?

Ya. And boy problems and family problems.

OK, what about Tumblr?

I use Tumblr to share random pictures that I think are cool. Twitter is for typing interesting things, and Tumblr is for showing it in pictures. So, basically, Facebook is for relationships, Twitter is for life, and Tumblr is for pictures.

I heard you talking earlier about high school having a lot of drama. Which of the four sites has the most drama on it?

Facebook.

What kinds of things do you run into?

It usually starts with one person calling another something and goes on from there.

Are you anonymous or real on these sites?

Real. I use my real name and face.

OK now that we’ve talked about these tools in your personal life, can we talk a bit about school?

Sure.

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr at school?

I use Twitter on my cell phone.

Are you allowed to?

You have to sneak it in class.

Do you have any teachers that use this stuff in the classroom?

(Looks dumbfounded) No, they might show us a picture if it’s online or something.

What are your thoughts on school?

To be honest, I don’t really like it. They just pile stuff on. There’s too much … learning.

(Taken aback) I’m guessing you don’t hate all learning, right? Do you mean you don’t like the kind of learning that happens in school?

Ya. I like hands-on learning. Not just like ‘Here’s a question, answer it’ type stuff.

How would you feel if a teacher took something you love, like Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and used it for learning in the classroom?

(Pauses, again looks like it was never presented as a possibility) What do you mean?

Imagine if there was something like a Facebook for school or Twitter for school?

I don’t know.

It never occurred to you that we could use these for learning in school?

No.

OK, let’s switch to a common hot topic. Do you think kids should be allowed to use cell phones in schools?

I think they should let us because we can use them to connect and share and find information. Like, we’re using them anyway.

Thanks so much Alanna. I’d love to just ask you one more question. You were saying before that you weren’t happy with the type of learning happening in schools. If you were the boss of all the schools what would you change first?

Instead of making us use paper and pen for everything, I’d want them to use more technology and computers. I just wish they’d give us more freedom.

Response to P. Tucker’s post “We need to talk about what we shouldn’t do”

Here is the comment I wrote on P. Tucker’s post disagreeing with a retweet I made on Twitter about Social Media.

I agree with you Mr. Tucker that there are many pitfalls not only for our students who are minors, but also us as teachers. Social media and its potential use in the classroom certainly would not be the controversial topic it is were it not fraught with possible missteps or misguided use.

I would add, however, that successful and meaningful use of SM in schools needs strong leadership (such as the kind provided by people such as @gcouros), clear and articulated pedagogical purpose, and, most of all, resiliency. There is no point in walking down the SM path if mistake making is not accepted as part and parcel in the process.

I would further suggest that, at least from my vista, the ‘shouldn’t do’ educating, at least in terms of lectures, posters, pamphlets, and other media, is not something that is scarce. In my original retweet, I was simply acknowledging the derth of mainstream discourse on ‘the power and potential’ of SM for networked learning.

I agree with you that it is somewhat naive to look upon a technology such as SM as neutral. The medium changes people and the world. No question.

Perhaps what we should really do is stop polarizing SM’s effects and purpose as BAD and GOOD. It’s much more complex than that. In particular, I doubt we are ever going to reach an entire generation of young people who use SM in their daily lives so long as our dominant voice is one of perpetual admonishment.

Web 2.0 in Our Grade 7 Classroom

If I were to name the 2009-2010 school year, some appropriate ones may be Web 2.0 Melee, More Mobile Learning, or Internet on Steroids. It was one of the most rewarding years of my teaching career, but also one of the most dizzying. This occasional disorientation was brought about due to the sheer expansive nature of the internet. Although I likely will never go back to the closed ‘Web 1.5’ environment of something like Moodle, one thing we did sacrifice by going on our 2.0 exploration was a consistent centralized meeting place online.

Did you post it on Twitter or Edmodo, Mr. Lee?

Is it in our Docs or Gmail?

What happened to that Voicethread?

Yes, experimentation has its price, but it also has its rewards. Here are some criteria we developed to assess the quality of a Web 2.0 tool:

  1. Is education a priority for them? Do they have special accounts and systems for teachers and students?
  2. Is it fast, reliable, and uncrashy?
  3. Can you embed work easily into other sites, particularly blogs?
  4. Is it easy to share work with people outside the classroom (e.g. parents)?
  5. Is the interface simple and intuitive?
  6. Has it been free for a while, and does it seem as though it will be indefinitely?
  7. Do they have, or are they at least exploring the development of, mobile apps?

Based on this criteria, it’s not surprising then that the three Web 2.0 tools we tended to keep  coming back to were Google Apps, Twitter, and WordPress.

This year, I’ve decided to (at least start the year off with) using Google Apps as the main tool in the toolbox. Although I like WordPress better than Blogger as a blogging app, and infinitely prefer Twitter to Buzz, I don’t want to make the same mistake of having an inordinate number of accounts. The plus of having the perfect app, we learned, is offset by the minus that is Web 2.0 ADHD. Here’s a visual of what I hope to get students involved in using:

This will be the first time I will have experienced teaching Literacy to more than just my own homeroom class. Although I will miss the special relationships and learning that occur in a proper elementary class this year, I am excited by the prospect of teaching over a hundred students of one grade. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to soft-wall (there, it’s a verb) four different classes, and make them feel as though they are really part of one giant collaborative group.

As always, I welcome feedback or questions you have about my master plan:-)