Power Quotations from Start. Right. Now.

After a vacation week hiatus, I returned to my 30 day sketchnote challenge. Fortunately, I did more that just sit in the sand while away, I read some really great books–both fiction and non-fiction, including a few education-related titles. One of these was Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffery Zoul and Jimmy Casas. I’ll have more to say about the book on the blog later this week, but I wanted to share a few of the many quotations that stopped me in my proverbial reading tracks.

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Creation Versus Curation: Feeling Good about Remixing

This post was started on Febuary 10, 2017. It’s been sitting in my draft posts since then, but in light of recent readings, I’ve gone back to it, and as I’ve started to understand more about digital literacy, I’ve seen these issues I was considering in February with greater context.  Below is the draft from February, and then my thinking this week.


From February:

When I started my Media Maker class, I had visions of students creating audio and video podcasts, listicles, web pages and all manner of media designed for the web. More specifically, I had visions of them going out and taking their own pictures and videos, using their phones to generate and create their own content. I saw them being creators who were just like me.

As a blogger, I try to generate as much of my own content as I can. Primarily, that’s easy, because for the most part I’m creating text-based media and written blogs. When I want to incorporate images, I typically pull out my iphone and take pictures. For me, part of the pleasure in blogging and designing a blog post, even as simple as they are, comes from the awareness that I’m making all that content myself. As a writer, it’s always been important to me to write my life, to come up with my own stuff. Blogging allows me to make things myself.

As a teacher, I believe it’s important for students to write about their own thinking and to learn how to develop their own ideas. Growing up in public schools and public colleges, the idea of using other people’s material was frowned upon and plagiarism was an ever looming threat. Also, we’re convinced as teachers, that when students are given choice and power to make their own decisions about learning, they are naturally motivated. So, if I let them write about their own interests and passions, my job as a teacher becomes easier, in a sense, because I just have to work on conferring with them about what they are creating and to help them develop to be their best. And, if I give them choice, then wouldn’t they want to create their own content.

That’s not really what I’m finding.

In Media Maker, students are interested in writing about their own ideas and interests, but more often, they are interested in repurposing content they already find on the web. Often, their repurposing and curating material in spite of me. What I’m seeing in their choice of topics, their driving interests has made me reconsider my stance that creating is really always better.  

What brought me here? In a recent project, students were given the choice to focus either on informative or evaluative writing, and that the end goal was to either create web-based texts that might look like Wikipedia style articles, Consumer Reports-based web-pages, Buzzfeed style listicles. One specific direction that I give to students is that they have to generate the content of their projects themselves, or that content that needs to be cited and acknowledged is appropriately attributed to the correct sources.

I got some great projects:

Best New Cars for Teen Drivers

10 Vacations Before You Die

5 Best Conspiracy Theory Photographs

Best Albums of 2016

20 Best New Video Games of 2016

Evolution of the Mario Bros. Franchise

5 Best Boxed, Instant Macaroni and Cheeses

The topics of each of these projects was completely student driven. They did research and used sources to drive the writing, and integrated the research into their own topics, the commentary, discussion or evaluation necessary to develop each of these topics, and for most, used pictures, images, gifs they found on the web already. In only one of these projects, the one of the macaroni and cheese, did the the student actually take pictures and incorporate them into her project. She went and bought five different kinds of mac-n-cheese, cooked them and then took pictures of the bowls of pasta and the boxes. In all the other projects, students found images, cited them, or in revision of a draft of their project went about citing them. Students know that I pull projects from their blogs or that projects will not be marked “At Standard” if they are not cited properly. As part of our mentor text study, I had students examine and identify how professionally generated web-texts acknowledge both text-based sources and non-text based sources.

As students developed their projects, I quickly realized that the idea of generating their own media for these projects was absurd. Of course, the student who was looking at conspiracy theory photographs of the JFK assassination wouldn’t be able to take his own pictures. The kid making a best albums of the year wouldn’t be able to take pictures. What would the kids writing video game reviews take pictures of? These kids were making the kinds of texts that I wanted them to create, and the kinds of authentic texts found on the web.

I also found myself learning about such texts. For example, when studying Buzzfeed alongside of my students, I realized that much of their media is taken from other places on the web and acknowledged with URLs, only.

If anything, I started to see that repurposing content from the web to your own ends is a relevant skills.

The student ISTE standard 1, Creativity and Innovation, states that students “Create original works as a means of personal or group expression,” and standard 3 states that students “select information sources and digital tools appropriate to the task.” While I don’t know if my student consciously made decisions about these tools, and perhaps grabbed and nabbed digital images from the web because it was the easiest thing to do, I’d like to think that they used what came naturally.


And, that’s where I ended in February. Some thoughts from this week:

If you’ve been following the first week of my 30 day sketchnote challenge, you’ll see that early last week, I read Doug Belshaw’s “Essential Elements of Digital Literacy,” and made an early attempt at sketchnoting. One of these elements is creativity, but his definition of creativity is that in being creative, we make something new and of value, but that something is not necessarily original. For Belshaw the remixing of media, and re-purposing of media is an important part of becoming digitally literate. Use this link to see Belshaw’s Tedx talk.

After reading this, I thought of this draft, decided to brush off the metaphorical dust and get it out there. Belshaw gave me some support for my lines of thinking, and as I start to go back into planning Media Maker for the fall, I can know that students remixing and doing re-genre work on their writing and in their blog creations are worthwhile.

 

What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3

Yesterday, our school played host to a first-ever regional workshop of 4 area schools.

About 800 educators came together to spend the day in workshops, presentations, discussions, sharings, connections all in the service of the theme of the day “Connecting for Kids.”

The premise was simple–we have a lot of education talent in the Finger Lakes region. Let’s put it together, share those resources and knowledge, and our kids can benefit.

Such things do not happen easily. A coordinated effort such as this takes time, and it takes resources. Superintendents trusted that it could come together. Such is the culture of innovation.

The vibe for the day was amazing. Everyone that I spoke with felt like they were learning, and felt like the connection between other teachers and educators inspired and re-filled those March-empty teacher tanks.

Such a day makes room for people to return to something fundamental. It allows us to become learners again. We connected for kids, but we also connected for ourselves and our passions.

Continue reading “What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? Part 2 #IMOOC week 3″

What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners”? #IMMOOC week 3

 

Analogy: “Career” vs. “Passion”; “Teacher” vs. “Learner”

It popped into my Twitter feed earlier today. A question that should be added to the list of questions asked when hiring new teachers: “How do you consider yourself a learner?”

A career in education is a long one. Some teachers may spend 20 years, or perhaps 30 or 35 years working in a classroom. Educators may move from a classroom setting, to some support role as  a department chair or leader, or in many cases, move into an administrative position.

If we see our roles only as a adults there to give knowledge, hold students accountable, assign points, it may come to feel pretty static.

And, when students aren’t interested in the class, they resist by not doing work, adults up the stakes with more rules, systems of accountability, and I’ve seen the burned out of imposing the role of the “teacher.”


Integration question: What are the principles of sustainability in ecology and environmental science and how can they be applied to the field of education


I don’t have your answer.

For me, it’s a drive to do new and different things in different ways in my classroom. To not rest on something that’s worked in the past. This means knowing that I have to learn about new techniques, approaches, methodologies and tools to make the new possible and successful.  

 

Pop Culture in Practice

This week’s Edublogs Club asked us to consider the role pop culture and pop culture texts play in our classrooms and in our instructional practices.

The Tedx Talk by Mackenzie Matheson argues that pop culture, found in media such as Disney films, provides valuable insights into our world, with narrative that comment on what gender roles are promoted and which are subverted, as well as how these narratives provide powerful socialization tools.

Thus, the use of pop culture in classrooms can be an excellent tool for student engagement and critical pedagogy in the classroom.

Like what Matheson advocates for in her talk, I’ve used Disney films to discuss how media can deliver powerful messages about gender, race, and class. However, what I’ve often found is disdain from my students in such approaches. It’s as if they’re saying, “How dare you try to despoil something from my childhood that I love.” Students want to accept pop culture at face value, to enjoy it as consumers of entertainment. They don’t want to accept that Cinderella promotes duty to cruel and unjust parents, that the little mermaid suggests that women need to change themselves to please men, or that Aladdin perpetuates stereotypes made by Western society about Arabic culture: “It’s Barbaric, but hey, it’s home!” Most of the messages in Disney films come intermixed on the screen with catchy jingles and smooth whistling from characters.

While I agree with Matheson’s ideas–not just her but with other educators who are pop culture-in-classroom proponents–that pop culture is valuable, but I guess I diverge and think that it’s not the quick fix to student disengagement or faltering motivation.

As an aside, Matheson’s talk provides some great analysis of these films. I wonder how she arrived at it. On her own? Or was that part of a classroom assignment or from someone teaching her about media analysis? Was there any research conducted? What were her sources? I have to think a classroom and teacher were in some way responsible, but we won’t know.

Also, I didn’t think her talk added up. There was analysis of Disney films, but in the end her message is identify with a character, fight your Disney battles. I didn’t seem to come together.

Bringing in media and using it is important, but I’ve also found that students access such a diverse and really fragmented array of media, that finding commonality in their tastes is near impossible.

I play, as many of my students do, video games. For weeks now, I’ve been excited to play the new PS4 game Horizon Zero Dawn; however, when I shared this with my classes, not even the gamers new what I was talking about. When I am able to talk about videogames with my gaming students, I realize that we don’t all play on the PS4. Some play on the xbox, some on PC. We play an astounding array of games and in many styles. I love learning from them and I’m inspired. But, even as gamers, we lack commonality.

It seems that we no longer, as a culture, access the same media narrative. Decades ago, there was a commonality–families sat around a radio and listened to a broadcast. And every family in each house and neighborhood was likely to listen to the same thing. Now, each person carries their own metaphorical radio around, and most have them in their pocket; however, that radio plays such a diverse range of media and programming, and that choice gives us power, but it also divides us.

No longer can we count on the idea that everyone watched the latest episode of MASH, or Friends, or Seinfeld the night before and that we can talk about it while circles around the water cooler or over bad cafeteria lunch in the teacher’s lounge. Instead, the water cooler talk revolves around the individual programming of the watcher, and an argument from each on what should be added to the other’s Netflix queue for watching. I myself have trouble remembering what media services my co-workers subscribe to: “Are you on Netflix? No? Hulu? Prime?”

The same goes for students. We can’t expect everyone to have watched PLL, or Lost or Grey’s Anatomy. They’re all watching something different. And if it’s not watching, then they’re all listening, reading, streaming, or Youtube-ing something different. If they aren’t Disney freaks, then they’re into video games or rap or ESPN.  

This makes it almost impossible to have a common framework and approach in using popular media in the classroom.

What’s important is not necessarily the media that I bring, the popular culture media, but that students might bring their own favorite kinds of media into the class space to share, and more importantly to work at evaluate, to review, to analyze, to seek out its messages.

When empowered to work with their own media choices, the results can be great for the individual student. I’ve seen great work done in analyzing gender in Orphan Black and genre mash-up in Firefly. I’ve seen them analyze depictions of masculinity in World of Warcraft. Students do great visual analysis of Seventeen magazine covers. I’ve had students create excellent histories of the Mario franchise.

Where I’ve had the most success is not with what I bring to the table, but when I give them the opportunity to select their own media and texts to work with.

Education Carnivals and Curriculum Hucksters

Almost two weeks ago now, I wrote about a dangerous trend in thinking about our schools and what can transpire inside of classrooms. This thinking is seen from educational policy wonks to researchers to educational leaders to educational technologists. There’s this crazy belief that education can happen magically with the help of computers and that most learning can occur when student, properly motivated, seek out their own learning. I’m motivated today to write further about this after reading Pamela Paul’s March 17th dispatch in the New York Times entitled “Reading, Writing and Video Games.”

The central question of Paul’s writing, “Do children need videos, dancing farm animals and digital gadgetry to learn?” is answered at the conclusion of her piece: “Let children play games that are not educational in their free time…Then, once they’re in the classroom, they can challenge themselves. Deliberate practice of less-than-exhilarating rote work isn’t necessarily fun but they need to get used to it—and learn to derive from it meaningful reward, a pleasure far greater than the record high score.”

Paul reminds us that games and fun often have their place, but perhaps the classroom isn’t it. Like Paul, I agree. One slippery slope we might imagine is classrooms filled with Wii consoles and students playing first person shooters blasting their way through sentence fragments, misspelled words and dangling modifiers. Sounds like fun, no? Maybe we could Dance Dance Revolution through our times tables.

In my time as an educator from the late 1990s, the perception that learning and education must be fun has blossomed full into a giant canker for us to deal with as teachers. When we think that learning must be fun, we devalue teachers as educators developing critical and civic intellectual capacities and make them more carnival hucksters and Las Vegas dancers. The true stuff of learning is often difficult. There are skills and concepts that are tough to master, and at the same time, important. In English, writing is a central skill. It’s hard to do, hard to teach, and hard to master. But, in every profession, necessary. In History, concepts of the Enlightenment may feel abstract, and yet, they are fundamental to our society and the rule of law by which we live. In math…In science…are examples from each discipline necessary to see the point?

There are studies that look at teacher believe that students are less focused and that new technologies have been a contributing factor. However, I remember some of what I was like as a high school student. I don’t remember being very focused, but I do remember my teachers calling me out for it. I also remember spending a lot of time listening to my yellow, SONY sport Walkman blasting REM, U2, and The Cure through those tiny ear buds. I also remember my teachers saying those Walkmen would be the death of civilization. I think I turned out okay. We need to be careful of such research based in teacher perception.

There’s a different slippery slope that we’re on that’s far more concerning that I’d like to take a moment to bring to light. Some of you may say, Keith, your argument is a slippery slope; however, just because it is doesn’t mean that we’re not sliding.

Educational publishers, educational technology companies and computer salespeople love the argument that education needs to be driven by entertainment and fun. It fuels their sales pitch—that their products will keep students entertained and learning. In New York state, modules are being developed K-12 to provide districts with packaged content that meets Common Core. Nervous administrators, district-level Boards of Education under public pressure, and wrote teachers love this stuff. Everyone gets to say that they’re meeting new standards. Happy? You betcha! In one way, all of these new educational materials seem to be the latest, cutting-edge trends. It’s hard not to see the cool factor in digital technologies in the classroom, and to feel comforted by prepackaged materials from a state education department.

However, don’t drink your Kool-Aid just yet! Anyone would be a fool to think that you could take something prepackaged and just shove it at kids and have it work. Those modules will need to be set to classrooms. They’ll need to be style and adjustment to them to have them work for the personalities in the room.

Put together, all this stuff is the white elephant stuffed with explosives. The danger in itself is educational software, prepackaged units and modules, schools in the clouds, lessons all as videos on demand. Where are the teachers? We don’t need them. Or, really, we need fewer teachers. Who needs experienced teachers when students can access this material with an iPad app? When we have prepackaged modules that lay out objectives, lesson plans and worksheets, why do you need teachers to create that stuff. You only need people to deliver. What we’ll need is teacher aids monitoring students on computers or tablets or sitting in front of video displays. We’ll need aids that can photocopy worksheets and give them to kids. Then, we’ll need a licensed teacher monitoring a half-dozen teacher aids.  What a budget-saving boon to districts, to society not having to pay for pensions. If we continue to believe that learning must be fun, that technology is the answer, we’ll continue down this slope I’m talking about.

Common Core and the teacher rubrics adopted in my district offer an opportunity to take our teaching to a new level. This needs to fall somewhere between repurposing the old just for the sake of meeting new standards, adopting what educational publishers push at middling administrators, and throwing all of what we’ve done in the past out to arrive at some new evolution.