Sunday, March 30, 2008

Social Networking

Being an elementary school teacher means that you are always scouting for educational value in what people would normally classify as fit for the trash heap. For example, discarded cardboard is templated into dazzling, life-sized “guitars”,overturned paper bowls morph into out-of-this-world flying saucers,Thanksgiving turkey carcasses provide the foundation for one-of-a-kind bling,
and popsicle sticks are crafted into bobsled Christmas tree decorations. I take special ecological, creative and budgetary pride in being able to discover and exploit the pedagogical power of almost anything. That being said, I found myself humbled –initially at least - by my lack of ability to imagine academic worth in social networking sites. Aren’t they a social, not an educational construct? What business do I have poking my nose into my students’ and colleagues’ personals? Armed with my doubts and girded with my cynicism, I set out to explore social networking and how it could apply to classrooms and teaching.

I began by turning to a bread-and-butter component of my Web 2.0 investigations: a Lee LeFever video. (I always appreciate the down-to-earth, concise nature of the Plain English videos. To me, they’re reminiscent of Doug Johnson’s salute to Denzel Washington’s line in the movie Philadelphia: “Explain it to me like I was six years old.”) I moved from LeFever to wikipedia, another staple in my Web 2.0 pantry. Wikipedia provided a list of social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Bebo and Hi5. Delving into the wikipedia stewpot provided lots of good information and links on social networking, including this site which provided great information regarding social networking’s definition, history and scholarship issues.
I learned that social networking can provide connections for business and medical applications. Sermo, for example, is a site set up for physicians to post and read observations, questions and opinions about clinical issues. Both business and medical applications could easily find their way into CALM (career and life management) classes.
I also learned that social networking can ignite and advance social consciences, an integral part of global citizenship and social responsibility components of Social Studies courses. Even very young children can – and should – be in tune with the need to champion social justice and equality in all avenues. The SixDegrees site, initiated by Kevin Bacon and other actors, seeks to advance causes such as UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), YouthAids and Operation Smile – all worthwhile causes that classrooms could find connection to and rally around.

An excellent site showcasing ways to use social networking systems in educational settings can be found here.
In education, social networking can:
• create outlets for creativity and imagination, through personalizing spaces.
• provide a forum for discussion, planning, brainstorming, critiquing, questioning, supporting.
• allow users to share resources and ideas.
• extend curricula beyond the classroom parameters, allowing for “teachable occasions” from a limitless pool of expertise and serendipity. (You never know when what you contribute will trigger a “Eureka!” moment for someone else.)
• sponsor a sense of community and collegiality.
• support collaborative learning.
• roaden the horizons (geographically, culturally, religiously and temporally) of user groups.
• provide a venue for modeling behaviors, ideas, etc.
• act as a “water cooler” to promote personal introductions and connections.
• connect people and ideas globally.
• supply a venue for announcements and general information.
• become a repository to collect material and subsequently manipulate, synthesize, analyze and present it.
• help streamline searches for information and ideas, aiding the “inflo-glut” battle that McKenzie writes of.
• accommodate Glazer and Page’s collaborative apprenticeship for teachers’ professional development.
• pave avenues for different learning styles to be modeled and suggested, simultaneously honouring Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
• be a platform for study groups, tutoring, or mentoring.

The topic of study groups provides a segue into the cautions that should be observed for using social networking sites; Chris Avenir, a Ryerson University student, is under investigation for allegedly cheating by setting up a study group on Facebook. His instructor had specified that individual work was required on the assignment in question and that bringing a study group into the scene violated the rules. Avenir contends that if what he and others were doing was cheating, so are all the activities related to the university’s tutoring and mentoring programs. Regardless of the outcome of this case, it illuminates Al Roger’s contention that tech tools are transforming our culture. It also reminds us to have close regard for the “netiquette” that Valenza advocates.

Social networking sites have problems other than cheating associated with them. Setting them up for a classroom and monitoring them adequately might entail time that teachers don’t feel they have to give, although I’m guessing that the educational dividends accrued would be worth the effort. As well, I’m certain that parents would express concerns for the safety of children using social networking sites. To gain ideas on how to help alleviate parental concerns, I would recommend visiting Classroom 2.0 . This site describes itself as “a social networking site for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in education” and has some excellent ideas and links, including this one on cybersafety. It suggests implementing safety strategies such as:
• watching cybersafety videos, like this teacher tube offering.
• using discussion and frequent verbal reminders regarding the need for safety – no addresses, phone numbers, or personal data should be posted.
• creating avatars – in lieu of photographic ID’s for blogs, voicethreads, and other online sites. An example of an avatar creation site is here.
• having an information evening for parents. At the meeting, suggest the parents sign permission forms agreeing to allow publication of their children’s work online and/or to show online photos (preferably group photos) with no names or with pseudonyms attached.
• making provisions for participants without at-home internet access to use libraries for social networking sites. This way, all students may get comments on their sites and tune into proper, polite responders.
• letting the students know that you – and others, such as parents – will be monitoring posted comments.
• educating about and utilizing appropriate privacy settings.
• having students discuss, design and sign codes of conduct/behaviour contracts.
• utilizing the “Queen of England Rule” – treating everyone online as though they were the queen or as though the queen were watching, i.e. using respect for all.
• reminding students that what they put online may have lasting consequences – link it to the old poem: “Your future lies before you like newly fallen snow. Be careful how you step in it, for every step will show.” Some employers, for example, check out the Facebook entries of potential employees.
• reminding students that what they put online may have unexpected results – link it to another poem: “They walked the lane together, the night was filled with stars. They reached the gate together. He raised for her the bars. She neither smiled nor thanked him, for she knew not how; for he was just a farmer lad and she – the jersey cow.” Just as the poem has an unexpected ending, so may postings have surprising reactions – have the students cast a critical eye over them before posting.
• talking to the students about cyber bullying. Bullying is a time-honoured disgrace but student bullying has now developed the insidious ability to enter the previously sanctified and safe realm of the students’ own homes. Bully education needs to extend to the tech arena.
• discussing the Ten Golden Rules.

On a personal note, I have set up my own Facebook account, and, when I have time to use it, see it as a way of connecting with friends and family. My two daughters are ardent fans and frequent Facebook users; they rarely miss a day without checking in on their accounts.

On a second personal note, I came across this site discussing the type of people who do and the type of people who don’t use social networking sites. I intend to look for myself in both categories, as the “Bah humbug!” Ebenezer persona I began this blog with has become more like Liza Doolittle.....transformed…… into a proponent for and supporter of social networking systems.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Multimedia Sharing Sites

Voicethreads and I shook hands at and again at What's a Voice Thread Anyway?

From there, I moved through my memory's rolodex to......(cue the "Twilight Zone" music)....

.....Years ago, when a friend of mine, who worked for a time in an outdoor sporting goods store, told me that he was far more likely to make a sale if he could just get the potential buyer to imagine themselves using the product he was selling; once customers could visualize themselves paddling the canoe or gliding across snowy forest trails on the cross-country skis, or cruising mountain trails on the mountain bike, all that remained (often) was deciding whether it'd be cash or Visa.

I was reminded of my salesman friend in my exporation of Voicethreads, when I came across a "testimonial" extolling the virtues of Voicethread's option of having one account holding many identities - specifically, having 22 students completing one project in a computer lab in 45 minutes. Now THAT was I picture I could paint myself into! Hooked by this tempting educational vision, I became a sort of quiet crusader (it's probably the Easter overtones kicking in there) for Voicethreads, searching out their possible positives....

of which there appear many. For example, voicethreads can:

1. spark story starters, stimulating creativity and imagination.
2. be used to create sequential story segments, building collaboration/community building.
3. be used to create differing story endings/titles.
4. be soapboxes to announce the virtues/shortcomings of movies/songs/books/poetry, etc. - building critical thinking.
5. provide models/playful practise for pronounciation, accents, vocabulary, grammar, intonation, etc. for ESL students and other 2nd (3rd, 4th, etc.) language learners
6. springboard penpal or "epal" opportunities.
7. provide negotiation/debating/conflict resolution exercises.
8. provide forums for brainstorming - cross-curricular/age/culture/gender, etc.
9. link classrooms around the world, contributing to global awareness/citizenship and Rogers' global literacy.
10. link classrooms with parents/community - great PR for schools!
11. allow educators to interact with each other, providing "best practises" ideas, cautionary tales, professional development and collaboration and providing an outlet for Glazer and Pages' collaborative apprenticeship.
12. provide reflections opportunities for posted art work and learning how to evaluate in a constructive, rather than a destructive, manner/promoting "netiquette", empathy, social graces... and providing opportunities to accept/consider/evaluate criticism of one's own work.
13. provide an opportunity to honour Gardners Multiple Intelligences theory, providing optional vehicles for reporting (art/photos/audio/written text) and for responding (voice - microphone, telephone, video, text, audio).
14. help establish equal playing fields for both genders by giving everyone equal opportunity for voice, aiding the erasure of the digital divide Cooper writes of.
15. offer a way for computer skills to be used in a cross-curricular context, giving a nod to Eisenberg and Johnson's appeal for learning and teaching technology in context.
16. expand literacy and computer literacy skills.
17. convert classrooms to "real world learning" situations - eg. have the students explain/narrate events about the digital pictures taken on a field trip and relate them to the curriculum, where possible. Another example: have the students compile oral histories through interviewing grandparents, war vets, etc. Another example: voicethreads could dovetail beautifully with many components of health/safety themes such as bicycle, fire, water and winter safety, and could potentially have life-saving benefits. A final example: students could present recipes like this one real or imagined (like the "sandwitches' my class created for Hallowe'en).
18. extend the impact of classrooms beyond the architectural/temporal walls - as Valenza advocates for libraries.
19. help accommodate/include absent students (I added this suggestion to the Thinking Machine pbwiki, listed below. My picture is the one of the Weimaraner with the ears being held out).
18. help accommodate self-paced learning.
19. collect data/opinions and/or interpret/present data.
20. support inquiry.
21. promote positive school culture while connecting with the curriculum. For example, several years ago, to compliment the Grade 6 Science strand of Evidence and Investigation, my third graders "kidnapped' a 3D, lifesized snowman from the grade 6 classroom. We left a ransom note and clues for the sixth graders to unravel. Our principal was in on the gig and even called in an RCMP officer (one of my students' fathers) to come in and speak to our class. Naturally, we spoke AT LENGTH about the difference between what we were doing and ACTUAL lawbreakers. The whole situation would've been fun to have presented as a voice thread - presenting point of view of the kidnappers, the investigators, the police officer, the principal, the snowman (of course!) and others involved.

Similar scenarios could be set up involving "eyewitness accounts" of staged crimes/activities - again, wht the cautions that real life lawbreaking would not be condoned.

I can also see voicethread themed alphabets being a hoot to present: animal/food/anatomy themes, etc. or using voicethreads to present multiplication mneumonics or suggestions on how to pamper moms on Mother's Day or suggestions on how to wrangle mosquitoes or catch leprechauns or advertise igloos..or use voicethreads......the sky's the limit!

This Thinking Machine wiki boasts even more ways for educators to use voicethreads. Check it out! I'd also recommend asking the students for ideas on how they could use Voicethreads. I find my classes to be literal treasure troves of informational gems.

Letting parents know that Voicethreads communities can be limited /controlled and that Voicethreads comments can be moderated and controlled would help alleviate parental concerns, as could School Advisory Council/parent workshops regarding Voicethreads. As well, parental buy-in could be heightened by informing parents that the students' anonimity would be protected, either by using first names only,or by using drawings or photos to represent the students, or by using pseudonyms (my class made up names for their "Mathematical Heavyweights" math facts records: they called themselves names like "No Guts, No Glory", "Bone Crusher" and "Six Pack" - some fun!) Of course, the biggest advocate for Voicethreads (or Jumpcuts or ....) would be the child' joyful, enthusiastic participation (sounds corny? maybe, but it's true, I believe!)

The voicethreads activity that I set up follows. My voicethread account was, like wikis, blogs, etc. very straightforward and easy to set up. Commenting on the voicethread account (100 ways to Use Voicethreads)was also very easy. Technology's intimidation factor is dwindling gigabyte by gigabyte! One thing I've finally learned in setting up all the tech tools for this class is that I can repeat my password for wikis, podcasting accounts,etc. - this streamlines the process of adding to my tech tool box even more! I like the option of embedding my voicethread in a wiki and I liked the drawing tool option. Voicethreads is definitely something that I will use in my class - and would recommend to others to use.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Today was a beautiful blue sky Alberta day: hoodies instead of parkas, streets in full-flow melt mode, the maverick rabbits in the neighbourhood turning brown….we even heard our first Canada geese of the year! It was probably as close as you could get to Waikiki on an Edmonton afternoon in March….unless you count the virtual connection that wikis afford!

According to Wikipedia (probably the most widely recognized wiki on the planet),wikis take their name from one of two sources: either from the Hawaiian term ‘wiki’ which can be translated to mean ‘quick’, or from the backronym ‘What I Know Is’. (Wikipedia defines a backronym as a term constructed from a previously existing phrase, word, or abbreviation.) Whatever its roots, the growth of wikis is impressive on many levels.

Wikis provide an affordable information delivery/management vehicle accessible to anyone with a computer and internet access. They can operate as an effective way to create connected classrooms for students and to extend learning beyond matriculations and graduations, honouring Asselin’s reference to creating learning societies and lifelong learners. These learning societies can erase political, geographical and other boundaries, encouraging global citizenship and its incumbent tolerance, empathy and understanding. Examples of wikis that promote global citizenship and responsibility include the Horizon Project, global story writing projects and workshops, and Voices of the World, which is a cool project designed to help children develop an appreciation for different languages, accents and dialects from around the world. Another wiki is set up to promote the delivery of laptops to 13,200 school children in Haiti, to try to level the intellectual playing field - giving these students access to opportunities that might otherwise never be offered and helping to open doors to a bright and open future for students in a developing country.

In addition to promoting global citizenship, wikis can aid in the creation of digital citizenship – respecting copyright laws, ‘neticut’, etc. This wiki includes a digital citizenship unit plan and accompanying rubrics and assessment criteria.

Wikis can provide a sandbox for teachers and students to play around with Web 2.0 tools – to practise and refine building technological skills. Wikis can provide venues for students and teachers to publish and share ideas and creative undertakings – stories, art, podcasts, etc. Wikis can provide on-line learning opportunities, interaction and collaboration. Wikis can facilitate communication and professional development. They foster information and digital literacy.

Despite all their positive points, wikis do have drawbacks. Doug Johnson reminds us that there are often two sides to consider and writes that “the same hammer can break window and build cathedrals” and “It probably took the first tool-using ape about 30 seconds to figure out that coconuts and skulls can both be crushed.” Wikis, by their nature, can contain incorrect information and are susceptible to ‘trollers’ – people who intentionally disrupt the wiki or post false information. Wiki users need to be aware, critical thinkers (visiting the Great Spaghetti Harvest website) and taking the ‘Spot the Hoaxes’ Challenges is a good springboard to critical thinking. Verifying or finding additional sources to corroborate information is another reasonable step to take. In addition, restricting users can cut down on the amount of unreliable information posted.

I can see using wikis in several areas in my grade three class. We are currently collaborating on a classroom thesaurus – dreaming up alternate terms, for example, for the word “said” or “nice” or “walked”. This could be done in wiki format, which, if extended as a homework assignment, would serve the twin purpose of communication with parents and involving them with their child’s education. As well, our school has participated in ‘door stories’ where classrooms take turns building a story, based on what other classrooms have written prior to your turn. This could easily be done on wikis and extended as homework assignments, in small or large groups and within or across grades.

I can also see using a wiki to set up field trips – organizing drivers, chaperones, snacks, activities, etc.

I can see using wikis for professional development – pooling examples of favorite math websites, or book reviews, or novel studies…. Our staff even discussed using a wiki to discuss our SCIP (school continuous improvement plan) – something that takes up a lot of our staff meeting time. Discussing the SCIP plan in wiki format could save streamline staff meeting time and give voice to teachers who are more reluctant to speak up.

There are lots of good ideas for using wikis in classrooms posted on this wiki.

Elisa and I set up our wiki for the class using wikispaces. A You tube tutorial for using wikis follows.

As I progress through this course, I am finding myself more and more comfortable with the “techy” tools we’ve been acquiring and refining. I found myself getting completely immersed in this topic, snooping around for hours and sending tags to with a fervor approaching gluttony! I’d better hope for more blue sky Alberta days, to make sure I’m tempted to come up for air in the real world every now and then….!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

virtual libraries

I’ve worked with half a dozen or so student teachers throughout my teaching career. During the final week of their time with me, I always offered them the option of visiting other classes – as many as possible – to observe and “steal” best practises ideas about classroom management, bulletin board/art ideas, lesson delivery, etc. They had a chance to see both what they would and would not want to incorporate into their teaching platforms. The student teachers always appreciated what would likely be their only opportunity to go “shopping” for a pedagogical war chest in this manner; we more than once fantasized about a university class that would require you to roam from school to school, in city after town, harvesting ideas and cataloguing expertise. Of course, the cost of all this travel would be prohibitive……

….unless you were required to do this from the comfort of your own home, using your personal computer….for EDES 545! Exploring virtual school libraries and the qualities of great virtual school libraries is a nice obligation to undertake. It was kind of like a demonstration of Glazer and Page’s collaborative apprenticeship – without notifying the mentors!

I began compiling a list of great virtual library qualities by peeking into the virtual libraries listed on our EDES 545 Weblinks.

From the M.E.LaZerte High School Library, I liked:
Internet research links to resources
Online databases/ search tools and strategies
Citing sources advice
Links to the Public Library and the U of A – providing extensions for the present and planting seeds for the future
Diploma Exam/Learn Alberta links – good opportunities for extending learning and test preparation
I found the layout of the site unappealing and thought the “study skills” portion may not be too popular with the students, although I like the homework help I found in there. I liked the tutorial on word play and jotted down examples of chiasmus: parallel pieces of writing with word, letter or phrase reversal, like “It’s not the men in my life, it’s the life in my men” or “A magician pulls rabbits out of hats; an experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats” or “Lust is what makes you want to keep wanting to do it even when you have no desire to be with each other. Love is what makes you want to be with each other even though you have no desire to do it.” But when I returned to the site to link the homework tutorials, I couldn’t find them…..frustrating.

From the Prince of Wales VL, I liked:
The updates – keeps the VL current, in agreement with Minkel’s “cat box” rule: changing some things regularly keeps them fresh
Subject categories – this could speed up searches for specific information
Young Canada Reader’s Choice Awards listed – celebrating our heritage is a good way to instill pride and citizenship; parents would appreciate it when gift shopping, too
New Fiction booklist – generates continued interest in the library

From the fabulous Springfield Township High School VL:
The tour option – made a good overview
Appealing graphics (I noticed the artist shared Valenza’s last name – it had to be her daughter)
Information about the staff, including a photo – this put a human touch on the VL
Upcoming wikis and their potential for collaboration
Information on copyright – a good reminder about ethical work
Online lessons – keeps parents, absent students, beginning teachers, etc. in the loop; cool platform/review for evaluations, encourages teacher sharing and collaboration
General information – hours of operation, contact info including email, fax, phone, physical address
Statement of library policies

From Latimer Road VL
The EDES 545 link! It was nice to see the collaboration extending across different school terms!
The silent reading pass idea – what a great way to add prestige to reading – by making it a special reward
Teacher friendly edublogs, including 10 ways to use blogs with your students – great!
Study skills – How to smarter than a fifth grader is a great title

From Birch Lane Elementary School VL
Student reviews – builds clientele “buy in” – for students and parents
Magazine rack – extends audience appeal, adds contemporary touch

From Belmont VL
Clear, concise, uncluttered format
Current events – great way for cross-curricular discussion, great application to the “real world”
Site Map – gave a great overview

From Highlands School VL
Parent page – good PR
School information page – including student handbooks: saving the environment and streamlining the delivery of information at the same time
Tips on writing and creating good presentations

From Catskill Elementary VL
Online newspapers
Yahooligans link

From my own imagination, I’d add:
A wish list for the library
A celebrations section – showcasing support given to the library
FAQ’s with “help” features or an email avenue for questions
Of course, the VL must be tailored appropriately to suit the needs of its clientele, it must be organized in a clear manner and easy to navigate, it should be appealing visually and the quality of writing within it should be high.

Fusing all the bulleted ingredients together would make, in my opinion, a wonderful VL.

Using a virtual library has many advantages:
- the material that is “borrowed” virtually cannot be overdue
- materials cannot acquire torn pages or coffee stains or be transported through a dog’s intestinal tract
- it’s the poster child for portability – it can be taken anywhere a laptop can travel
- it can accommodate multiple users simultaneously
- it can increase access to material as it’s open 24/7

My VL investigation led me to digital libraries, which store materials in digital formats and showcased even more advantages of “hooked-up, tuned-in” on-line library connections. As a case in point, the World Digital Library afforded accessibility to rare collections – ones that you might never get to see otherwise. Examples? You can view original handwritten lyrics for the Beatles “Yesterday”, you can pour over old maps written in Latin, you can turn the pages of a book about ancient Egyptian treasures….. You can “interact” with books as well – rotate them, move them around, turn pages, magnify, translate text, listen and contribute to comments….incredible stuff. Advantages? In addition to universal accessibility of its collection, this library promotes international/inter-cultural awareness and understanding, provides resources to educators, expands the amount of non-English and non-Western material on the internet, and will do this all free of charge. Exact copies of materials can be made any number of times without loss of quality. Money is saved on storage space, book upkeep,and staff ,but the process of converting print to digital format and for the tech skills to maintain them and to maintain online access [for example, the material in a digital library must be “migrated” every few years to the latest digital media] can be pricey itself….. And, many who could – and should – benefit most from the global reach of the World Digital Library lack the infrastructure to access it – it’s hard to use such a wonderful resource if you don’t have a computer or a socket to plug it into.

Another great digital library I stumbled upon was the Perseus Project, which focuses on materials from ancient Greece. With the Olympics coming up, I’d use this site to springboard Olympic historical research, to create some “information gladiators”. There were some wonderful stories, including one about Milo, an Olympian who was so strong he reputedly challenged all comers to take away a pomegranate he held in his hand. Even though he held the pomegranate so tightly that no one could get it from him, the pomegranate was never damaged. (This would be a good segue to or from the story of Persephone and Demeter and how they- and pomegranate seeds - are connected to the seasons. I read the myth to my class every fall and we follow up with discussion, sampling pomegranates, and student-written retellings of the story.)

We also read and discuss a child’s version of Hercules, then follow up by writing the 12 labours of ___________(a modern day “hero”) – for example, the 12 labours of Ted the Baker. Project Perseus has great information both for Hercules’ biography and for his labours – wonderful resources for student research. A caution about the information on the site – because it has pictures from ancient Greece, some of the drawings of people are featured in full glory nudity. Some parents may object; some students may sensationalize it or become goofy. Teachers will have to use discretion and set an age-appropriate, educated tone for the class. Doug Johnson writes that he tries to remember and apply the Latin phrase “Ex abusu non arguitur in usum”, translated as “The abuse of a thing is no argument against its use.” Johnson advises anticipating the problem, then using the technology anyway. I concur.

I concur as well with Valenza’s statement that today’s libraries should have 2 front doors and that one of them should be virtual. The construction of great virtual libraries can facilitate great teaching…..and great learning opportunities.