Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reflection post

I always feel a little guilty about writing report card comments for the Van de Schmellingers and the Zeigermeisters of the world, as I usually write the report cards as their owners’ names appear alphabetically on my class roster and I’m often out of literary steam by the time I get to the end of the alphabet. I often have to promise myself a little reward or, alternatively, give myself a little finger wag, to torque up the twin engines of my evaluative and literary efforts. I’m reminded of this report card scenario as I sit before the computer, composing the “z” equivalent of my blog posts… It’s probably a good thing that the pile of edible rewards (with a calorie count that approaches stratospheric levels) littering the desk beside me is invisible to anyone reading this…

Paralleling my guilty feelings, however, are feelings of pride and accomplishment, as well. I have never been on the cutting edge of technology – in any area of my professional or personal life. If Luddites had been searching for a queen, I’d surely have contended for the crown – I didn’t even own a microwave oven for the first forty-five years of my life. (I have one now but I don’t like to stand toooo close while it’s operating. Ha ha.) But now, I’d qualify more for the Virginia Slims You’ve Come a Long Way Baby Award nomination … prior to this January, with the exception of podcasts and Facebook, I’d never heard of the Web 2.0 tools we examined and discussed in our class. I feel I’ve learned so much about technology in education, while at the same time I’ve become MUCH less intimidated by it. I will always be grateful to the others in the class who seemed to share my lack of tech expertise, but who persevered in their quests to conquer Web 2.0 challenges. I’m thankful, too, to those who gave of their considerable expertise and knowledge. It seemed that, true to librarians’ innate sharing natures, advice and aid were always just a discussion posting away.

One of the highlights for me was blog writing and reading – the creative act of constructing posts and the wonderful ideas and turns of phrase penned by others in the class. I’ve always had a dangerous addiction to well-written offerings, and the students in this course provided lots to appreciate.

Another highlight I found was putting the “me” in YouTube! I had never explored this popular phenomenon before and couldn’t be bothered to see what all the fuss was about. Now, however, it’s one of the standards I investigate when I begin a new unit of study for my grade three class. For example, we are launching a unit on Sound on Monday. One of the centres that will be featured is an offering of YouTube features showing musical instruments made from vegetables…as amazing as the appetite I’ve developed for unique videos.

I’ve also gained a healthy appreciation for the value of research – and was continually impressed by the goliath portions of experts and research cited by my fellow students.

A lowlight? I found at times the workload of the class was daunting – although it was all “doable”, it did eat up a lot of time and effort. Of course, some of this may have been due to the level I began at – had I known more about technology, I doubtlessly could have proceeded with greater ease. And then there’s the addictive nature of some of the tools we examined…and my anal tendency to expend gazillions of brain cells on my syntax and word choice…I’m guessing I could have chosen to make the workload much less and was likely the architect of my own stress. Had I streamlined more, I likely would not have considered the workload to have been as large. I did, however, think that there were times (for example, during the wiki flurry) when it would have been more manageable to have posting “groupings” – where we were expected to read and comment on a small group of posts, as opposed to those from the whole class. (In an on-line class I took last summer we were placed in discussion groups of about 4 people, although we could read everyone’s posts. I found this much more manageable.)

Where do I go from here? I will definitely continue to apply Web 2.0 tools in my classroom – doing things like incorporating YouTube videos into curricula, stepping up on-line research where possible, and continuing to use the class blog I’ve established. I know that at least some of my colleagues would like to begin blogging and that it could become a nice contagion in our school – one that I’d be happy to be involved with, as it provides a forum to introduce so many other tech tools: podcasts, voicethreads, social bookmarking… Also, I will unhesitatingly participate in further on-line courses, and would definitely encourage others to take this one. It’s been a great journey…all the way to Z…and to zzzzz’s, which is where I’ll be in the next 10 minutes!!

PD Proposal

I’d like to begin this post by sending an on-line sate, a virtual bouquet and a sincere thank you to Step Ippen, who let me to Mike Curtin and his very practical five points for professional development programs. Curtin writes that PD endeavors should be sustained, gradual and incremental, collaborative, practical and transformative. These descriptors form a solid, comprehensive pentagonal framework for PD.

The Web 2.0 tool that I’ve chosen to offer my staff is Blogging. In my opinion, blogs and bloggins can satisfy all of Curtin’s (literal) handful of qualifiers – and more.

Consider Curtin’s point that PD be sustained. Blogs, by their very nature, are sustainable entities, designed to grow and flow, elasticize and expand, evolve and explore. Blogs are not “one-off” endeavors. Their journal/diary/soapbox/pulpit/outlet amalgams have a commitment to sustainability hard-wired right in.

Blogs also have the capacity to gradually and incrementally add more Web 2.0 tools onto their platforms. (Witness our own EDES 545 assignments!) Once a blog is established, it becomes a skeleton that invites additions: the muscle of wikis and video sharing, podcasting fingerprints, the pulmonary chambers of voicethreads, social networking, photosharing, and social bookmarking….Blogs have the powerful potential to layer more technological tools and talents – and to introduce them according to the users’ timelines and desires. Doug Johnson writes that we should “eat the elephant one bite at a time” – blogs allow for this culinary adventure.

Curtin advocates that PD be collaborative. Communication, as the essence of blogging, evokes collaboration as reciprocal avenues to question, challenge, compliment, relate, confirm, etc. are established among writers and readers. And, of course, this collaboration is on a planetary scale – participants may arrive on your virual doorstep anytime and from anywhere touched by technology.

Curtin’s fourth point is that PD should be practical; it should directly meet the needs of its participants. Blogging can perform the very practical service, not only of establishing communication among professionals, but also of establishing lines of communication between homes and schools. (A parent of one of my students recently stopped me in the street to let me know how much she appreciated our classroom blog, as she often worked late into the evening and could check out the blog at her work. Another parent – one who does not live in the same household as her daughter – also appreciates the blog, as it helps her keep in touch with her child’s educational activities. A third parent likes the math links on the blog.) Students at our school currently use agendas to record homework, announcements, etc. Class blogs could perform this same service – in greater detail, as the space in the students’ agendas is limited – and simultaneously saving money and hounouring environmental awareness and stewardship.

Curtin’s final point is that PD should be transformative. Writing from personal experience, I’ve gone from not knowing what a URL is , let alone a blog, RSS feeds, voicethreads, Flickr, virtual school libraries, wikis, etc. – to someone who has gained a reasonable familiarity with Web 2.0 tools – and, perhaps more importantly, the courage to tackle the stress and fear that new tech learning can hold. As Doug Johnson writes, “Whadda I Need That I Ain’t Got? Courage IS a Technology Skill.”

Beyond Curtin’s points, I’ve always believed in the concept of servant leadership - that is, finding out what a staff needs or desires, then working to accommodate it. With that in mind, I think it would be essential to OFFER, not mandate, blogging, as a PD activity at our school. Teachers who are not ready or unwilling to use blogs will not easily appreciate its value and will probably use it grudgingly or inadequately, if at all. Probably a good way to offer PD blog sessions would be at our Nerd nights (we schedule these for interested staff as tech needs or desires arise) or on an individual mentoring-type
Basis (a la Glazer and Page). Once teachers have committed to blogging PD, some realistic goals/deadlines could be collaboratively established to keep the PD flow going.

A good starting point for inservicing teachers could be Blog Basics for the Classroom which has good practical considerations for starting blogs or for safety concerns and issues.

I intend to continue blogging for my own PD and anticipate that the blog I have established in EDES 545 will be a reference source hat I’ll be able to refer to again and again. I can also see the value of blogging as an integral part of research - a key element in any graduate level program.

I’m grateful for my introduction to blogging and hope that I will be able to share what I’ve learned with others. Our tech lead teacher has already expressed an interest in setting up a class blog – could it be the tip of a technological iceberg for our staff?!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


There once was an old school marm
Who said, with edge-ucational charm,
“Think I’ll try a blog -
A pedagogical log-
For teachers. What could be the harm?”

If that limerick doesn’t pack the Understatement Punch of the Year, technologically speaking, then it’s a “contendah” for sure. The “harms” of blogging – beyond their addictive nature and their potential to eat up hours reading them – pale in comparison to their benefits. Blogging in education is one of the greatest things – for school marms and masters alike – since sliced bread. It really is a force that can sharpen the cutting edge in education – something we should all be invested in. This anonymous student post, taken from the Digital Chalkie blog speaks to the power of advancing technological frontiers in education:

“Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future. I will use a laptop
and you will use paper and a pencil. Are you ready…?
I will access up-to-date information – you will have a textbook that is 5 years old.
I will immediately know when I misspell a word – you will have to wait until it’s graded.
I will learn how to care for and harness technology by using it - you will read about it.
I can see science concepts in 3D – you will do the odd problems.
I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world - you will share yours with the class.
I will have 24/7 access – you have the entire class period.
I will access the most dynamic information – yours will be printed and photocopied.
I will communicate with leaders and experts using email – you will wait for Friday’s speaker.
I will select my learning style – you will use the teacher’s favorite learning style.
I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will collaborate with peers in your classroom.
I will take my learning as far as I want – you must wait for the rest of the class.

Score big points for the positives of blogging as a professional development candidate: this blog site – and others – can provide educators with a powerful catalyst for using technology in classrooms. The ability to successfully navigate technological waters should be a fundamental for teachers – blogs can help provide an impetus for them to do so.

Some of the blogs I explored were:
Brian’s Education Blog: Mr. Micklethwait describes his blog as being “libertarian-inclined”. One posting really captured my interest, as I thought it could provoke good discussion. The part of the posting that I’m referring to is “If you educate a man, you educate a person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.” Hmmm.
Top 100 Education Blogs: The name says it all! This was the site that directed my to Digital Chalkie.
Stephen’s Lighthouse: This blog was highly recommended by one of the Jasper librarians – it has had some very interesting, cool postings.
Escrapbooking: This was a great site with LOTS of links listed.
The Connected Classroom: This site touts itself as intending to creating a constructivist learning experiences” – there are some great posts here.
Rikard’s Weblog: This is a weblog for a third grade classroom, of special interest to me, since that’s my current grade.
Diane’s Discoveries: This had general education news and ideas.
Elementary School Blog: This was a blog for elementary teachers and librarians.
Simply Science: This blog had ideas for teaching science in elementary/primary schools.
LibrarianinBlack: I had added this to my account some time ago…it’s got lots of tech information and is described as providing “resources and discussions for the ‘tech-librarians-by-default’ among us”.
Will Richardson’s Blog: This site needs no explanation, nor does the next:
Joyce Valenza’s Never Ending Search
Heyjude: Judy O’Connell is an Aussie library/tech info goddess – lots of good ideas here.
Mr. Wright’s 3rd Grade Class ( This is a class blog from a school in Missouri and has lots of cross-curricular teaching ideas. I’ve used some of the weblinks selections in the class blog I set up for my own class ( My class blog is still evolving, but is currently used for communicating things like homework notices, school news, thank-yous and congratulations, and links for math sites.

In addition, I subscribe to the Rick Mercer Blog, which is certainly not without educational relevance. Its witty analyses and examinations of current affairs can ignite discussion and debate on many levels.

Some blogs I’ve earmarked for an later look include:

EduBlog News, which includes links to lots of student blogs.
Educational Blogger’s Network, which is a blog for educators using blogs in the classroom.
Educator Bloglines, which is a site for educational weblogs.

So how can blogging and blogs help with PD? In addition to providing sparks for implementing and integrating tech in teaching (I’m referring to my opening point), blogging can:

Provide a forum to access and share best practices, as well as fresh practices. It can also rejuvenate “mothballed” practices – those great ideas that you used to use and forgot all about until someone reminded you of them.
Build opportunities to brainstorm teaching/evaluation strategies.
Allow teachers to discuss school, student, or other issues.
Provide a platform for teachers to coordinate fiscal housekeeping: grant writing, fund raising, etc. and special events ideas.
Promote critical/analytical/creative/collaborative thinking opportunities.
Allow teachers to connect with subject-area experts on a wide variety of activities and projects.
Encourage, especially through the “comments” options, self-reflection. Readers/comment writers can motivate others to question or express concerns, compliments, confusions, complaints, and challenges.
Provide opportunities for mentoring, a la Glazer and Paige, intended and structured or serendipitous and transitory.
Build collegial relationships – around the world!
Provide a template for communication between educators and the communities they serve.
Link, link, link, link, link……creating pathways and blazing educational trails that might never be noticed otherwise.
Archive and publish professional and other portfolios, articles, etc.
Support research endeavors.

I think that blogging has such potential and such power because of two main reasons:

1. Its audience – or potential audience – draw, for both blog writers and blog readers. To me, blogging is a wonderful contagion – once introduced to its allure, it’s easy to spread the good word.
2. Its ease of use – blogs are easy to set up and foodle around with.

I’m all out of limerick inspiration, but that’s probably just as well, because blogging, and its powerful potential to impact professional development for educators, probably deserves poetry more on the level of sonnets or odes… I’ll leave that to more talented pens.