Saturday, February 23, 2008


Our gym was set up this week for gymnastics stations. Many of the teachers at our school are not comfortable with teaching gymnastics; in fact, most of them loathe it. They are fearful of student injuries, they lack a repertoire/catalogue of appropriate activities to offer, they feel inadequate because THEY can’t cartwheel or walk a balance beam, they are unsure how to lead students through skill development, etc. I probably would be in the same knee-knocking, heart-thumping, nausea-inducing, sweat-soaked mind set had I not taken a summer course in teaching elementary school gymnastics. The course was taught at Saskatchewan’s beautiful Emma Lake. The instructor was one of the national men’s team coaches – a man whose expertise was matched by a gregarious, contagious enthusiasm….. kind of like the Valenza of the gym, operating in what, if it were translated to libraryspeak, would be one of the nicest “librariums” on the planet.

We inept adult students had to lumber through attempts at refining balance, rotations, swings, etc. and while, at course’s end, none of us were invited to try out for the national team (probably because the leotards didn’t come in our ‘mature’ sizes – har, har), we did achieve some small smatterings of success. (I still glory in those long-ago bar pullovers and forward straddle rolls that marked the apex of my abilities!) More importantly, we had been given the theory, the tools, the location, and the instruction that allowed us to confidently, knowledgeably plan and provide effective, safe, enjoyable gymnastics programs for out students…. Something I’m still able to do in my teaching today.

I see parallels between learning gymnastics and the learning that EDES 545 affords. The classroom couldn’t be more physically different, but both are entirely appropriate for their subject. As well, initially, both can be scary, daunting learning situations. But with expertise, enthusiasm, encouragement and good program guidance from instructors, and with a collaborative learning community to lend its support, fear gives way to familiarity, comfort, and a growing confidence and assurance. The more knowledgeable/experienced I become with Web 2.0, the more comfortable I become. As my comfort level increases, so does the likelihood that I’ll use my knowledge in a classroom setting – and that this ability will endure far beyond the last blog posting, just as my gymnastics knowledge, gained more than 20 years ago, still serves me today. Similarly, without experience with, for example, podcasting, I’d be like the gymnastic-phobes, hardly inclined to include podcasting anywhere in any curriculum.

The intimidation of ignorance is powerful, but just as mighty are the twin powers of knowledge and experience. Once I’ve created a podcast or two, I can begin to move beyond the machinations of production and posting, and can apply an eye and energy to the potential for using podcasts in classrooms.

I can definitely see the utility of using podcasts on class blog pages – recapping the day’s or the week’s events or supplying announcements/information of field trips, assemblies, school calendar items, etc. Podcasts could be used to aid second language learning. They could be used as communication links for absent students – those on extended vacations or those whose programs are interrupted by long-term illness or extra-curricular activities. Recalling Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, podcasts could be an alternate platform for students to present research findings, book reports, etc.; podcasts would be a wonderful vehicle to present students’ literary offerings. For example, I know the mock interviews my students wrote for fairy tale characters (“Tell me, Rapunzel, what kind of shampoo do you use?”) would be a kick to present in podcast form. Student writing could be broadcast with sound effects, music, images, or videos to complement them. Care would have to be taken here, as some parents would not want their child’s images – visual or auditory – to be used in this way. Some parents might be more willing to allow their child’ audio podcasts if they were posted anonymously, or using first names only, or using pseudonyms (this opens up a “teachable moment” or two – what pseudonym would be chosen and why? What famous authors used pseudonyms and why? etc.). Another way to bring reluctant parents on board might be to involve them in the creation of the podcasts – maybe bringing certain candidates over to the “dark side”(!) would win the over to Resnick’s notion of “playful learning”. Parents could make great allies. Their permission would have to be granted, and FOIP standards would have to be respected. The fact that there is a pretty low barrier to entry as a podcast producer may help parents -and students - and even reluctant teachers – buy into podcasting as well. All one needs is a mike connected to a computer and some software. (A problem with this at our school immediately springs to mind, as our computers do not have mikes. I may have to grovel before the budget committee....) Then just add creativity and imagination – and you’re in business! Almost all podcasts are available free of charge and there are very few commercials/sponsor messages – hallelujah. And they cover a wide range of subjects – from news to comedy shows to language learning. Uploading podcasts to an MP3 player expands their utility/range to wherever the user desires.

In addition to the preparation of podcasts and all its attendant technological practise involved, students, parents, and teachers could benefit from simply sourcing podcasts and “consuming” them. For example, they could listen to book/author reviews like this review of John Bianchi’s book Swine Snafu. As well, a website called Kidcast had some great ideas for integrating podcasts (and other technology) into the curriculum. Teachers could use podcasts to help implement Glazer and Page’s ideas of collaborative apprenticeship – advancing their own and their peers’ professional development.

I used Audacity to create an audio podcast about Peter Eyvindson’s book Wish Wind. I used Garage Band for my podcast of Shel Silverstein’s poem “Backwards Bill”. I found a video on Youtube that was helpful in guiding me through the steps involved for using Garage Band.


Val said...

Hi Linda: I love your comparison to teaching gymnastics. It rings so true. In my early years as a teacher (15+ years ago) I was a PE teacher, graduating as a PhysEd major. When I set up the gym for gymanstics stations (also in Feb) I could feel the trembling and dread of those teachers that had to teach their own PE. Walking them trhough the stations, with student demonstrators rarely relieved their fear. For most it was a hold your breath until the units over type of thing. What a perfect analogy to Web first attitude was fear, trepedation and complete lack of confidence. Each week the fear eases a bit more, the confidence increases (some weeks by great amounts, other weeks by small margins). I am much more bold on the computer and with trying out new things than I was a few months ago. Experiencing this fear and anxiety in learning at 44 has been a good thing for me as I can now relate more easily to students who are fearful of new things. Although I have pursued lifelong learning throughout my career, EDES 545 has taken me completely out of my comfort zone into a new realm of learning. It has/is a good experience.

Great analogy. It made me laugh out loud with 'connection'.

I too saw the news story on the girl with autism and all she is doing. Awe inspiring isn't it.


Jessica said...

What a great analogy, Linda! You are lucky to have had that experience with gymnastics, as we all are to have this experience with web2.0 tools. While I've let my 'intimidation factor' scale slide of late on my blog, I've been keeping tabs on it personally, and I find with each consecutive topic, I feel less intimidated at the beginning and more confident at the end... my attitude has changed from "oh dear, where do I start?" to "ok, let's go!"

It's too bad all teachers don't get the chance to learn gymnastics from an olympic coach... and too bad all teachers don't take a course like this. Hopefully our PD projects will help a few more teachers feel more comfortable with some of these tools.

Ronda said...


Your analogy about gymnastics and web 2.0 is excellent. I love how you have explained the parallels.

I was also struck by one of your statements: "The intimidation of ignorance is powerful, but just as mighty are the twin powers of knowledge and experience." What a wonderful insight!


Arlene said...

Hi Linda,

Like Rhonda, I liked your comment about the "twin powers of knowledge and experience" over the "intimidation of ignorance." Taking this course now helps all of us develop the knowledge and experience with Web 2.0 just like your gymnastics class more than 20 years ago.

I like your suggestions for using podcast: recapping the events of the day or the week, supplying announcements/information about field trips, assemblies, school calendar, etc. I would love to hear what shampoo Rapunzel uses! Podcasts would also be good for students who are away.

I also like the teachable moment you suggested surrounding why people use pseudonyms, who has used one, what students choose to use and why.

I look forward to listening to the review of Swine Snafu and checking out Kidcast.


Jennifer said...

Amazing learning and connections in this blog posting. I am getting such a kick out of reading the blogs and seeing each of you progress in your learning. This is what great teaching is all about.