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Ambient… February 26, 2009

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Last nights class with Stephen Downes was one of the best so far for me in our course. To me Stephen seemed to be pulling all our previous talks (connectivism, sharing, learning, etc.) into one. This cleared much up for me in a positive way. He seemed to lose me in the later part of the discussion with the terminology and technical talk, but there was one concept that really drew me in. That was ambient learning.

The idea of ambient learning where we can learn everywhere at any time I think is the true mark of what education may strive to be. To often we think of education in a formal sense, where walls in a classroom or institution surround us. Much of the early years of our life is learning, not in formalized sense but in an experiential way. As a child we experience our learning though our actions and inactions. We learn manner life lessons this way.

Many teachers are striving toward this. I know I am. Students and some teachers are tired of the “stagnant” environment that we are placed in. Is that conducive to learning? Under the fluorescent lights, tiny windows, rows and desks? Perhaps for some students. I know in my fall action research project I have found myself best learning under this experiential manner and many of my students seemed to blossom during this experiential phase.

An off the cuff remark made last year to our community coordinator led to the planning and currently attempted building of an outdoor classroom. This classroom is not tradional with walls but an open-air concept with gardens, trees, shrubs, etc. With studies saying that fresh air and exposure to sun increasing the benefits of education it seemed like a logical exploration. The students will learn as much if not more in planning, constructing and maintaining the facility than in a traditional classroom.

As a father of two boys I see ambient learning about everywhere at any time using life as the learning backdrop. It is a daily occurrence using life to teach my 5 and 2.5-year-old lessons that will stick with them. Isn’t that the goal of an educator? Do our lessons about the Structure of Royal Government in New France, Ultra Vires in Law 30, or the Brain is Psych 20 stick with them? Maybe, but probably more than likely not. Perhaps if we look at the stagnancy in today’s education system and reshape it, perhaps it could work better.

Frustration… February 25, 2009

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With technology one assumes some frustrations occur at some points. Many a times I have gone to set up the digital projector and it was missing cords, websites down, and the Internet not working. The biggest frustration over the past couple of years has been the school’s Internet filters. I realize that in this day and age there is a need to be cautious and protective over the youth that come to our schools, but where does it end? Each day [it seems] there is more and more blocked. All it takes is one keyword to block a site and to have it removed seems to take it forever.

Case in point today was my Classroom Blog. I was creating a new Journal Entry on the change last month with Minimum Age Employment being reduced from 16 to 15 in certain sectors. I have found doing it on my blog [instead of paper] I am getting much more thought and feedback from students as I am talking their language. Likewise for my Work Exploration students doing their blogs online, they are doing well but found themselves blocked. However as I outlined previously in another blog, one of the challenges with moving journals online is that not all students have access to computers at home. So I am relying on school to have this access for some (whether it be at lunch, breaks, spares, before or after school). It took some lobbying by Jim (an administrator that uses blogs) and myself to have these unblocked but it happened.

Well lo and behold today the sites were blocked again. Augh!!!! I work for a school division that wants us to be more active in using technology to increase/assist student learning. However these roadblocks continue to happen. With our teacher accounts we are not as filtered so I often don’t know this is happening. I realize that in today’s society that at times we must be vigilant in what happens or could happen on computers, but can’t there be a happy medium. We can’t be told to adopt and use greater technology and then have access to it blocked. This has been getting worse and worse each year. Doing a Canadian identity assignment last year with my Alt. Ed. class I found a website on moose was blocked. This just wants to make me through my hands up and quit.

Privacy… February 23, 2009

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My professor recently posted a video talking about our digital dossier/footprint and the amount of information out there about each and everyone of us. I realize that in this digital age, as it expands, more and more of who we are and what we are doing is being documented. It was really a scary thought. I had flashbacks to George Orwell’s “1984” and Mulder from “The X-Files” [the truth [of us] is out there.].

Simple daily tasks that we do without much thought leaves these footprints behind. Daily activities such as: logging on a computer at home/school, surfing the Internet, using debit/credit cards, or phoning people from home or a cell phone. It’s scary to think of what trail we leave behind and what people might do with that information.

This reflection caused me to think about two incidents that happened to me when I was younger. Firstly was joining “Dooly’s” a pool hall chain. When I applied for membership I was told, very harshly, that I needed to give them my SIN number. I flatly refused and told the bartender that it was illegal for him to ask that of me. I told him I would give him 24 hours to check with a lawyer about the legalities of it, but that he could not with hold membership in that hall due to me not providing him with a SIN number. At this point it was all about proving him wrong, due to his demeanor. I went back the next night and he very sheepishly apologized for his mistake and promptly signed me up. Would anything have been wrongly done with my SIN number, probably not, but who knows.

The second incident was in filing taxes one year. I for get to get something off of my previous tax form, from the year before, and went down to my local tax office for a copy of said form. I walked in, waited, was called and received a copy of my tax form. I began to walk away when it hit me, I was never asked for a piece of id. I turned around and asked the gentleman if he needed anything else. He looked at me confused and said no. I asked him if it was normal policy to ask for id when handing out personal information. He said nothing. I called over a supervisor and registered my concerns.

We have the ability to control what we put out there. I still refuse to give personal info out over a cordless phone. I have a shredder, cross-cut, for my documents/mailings at home. I limit what I post on social networks. But I know I cannot bury or hide everything. What about people like the above situations? Do they value my concern about my info as well? Look at banks, stores, governments, that have over the past few years had to deal with public info about peoples’ lives just sitting around in dumpsters, trash, missing hard drives, etc. Am I paranoid about this? Is this a huge concern? Is this just how our “new” lives and society are going to be?

Open source… February 19, 2009

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I came across three articles on Open Source software on the CBC website today while I was surfing the news site.

The first one entitled “An open door for open source?” is about the Canadian government possibly giving open source developers an opening, previously held exclusively by software paid for in licenses, in being awarded contracts to install and service open source software within the government offices. Certainly the article points out the savings for costs to the government and taxpayer, especially in these tough times, but I am vague at what the article points out as other benefits. I myself like competition as I have a hard time following along with companies that hold a strangle hold on the market. I prefer [love really] Firefox over Explorer for its better speed and protection online. Within our school division we cannot install it [a superior browser] because it would infringe upon our license with Microsoft. Augh!!!

The second article is “Microsoft claims open-source software violates its patents.” I find it unbelievable the number of patents that Microsoft claims has been breached by other tech companies. Though Microsoft is reluctant to sue, I find it interesting on how it pressures others to settle in a way that Microsoft benefits from as outlined in this [third] article “Microsoft puts number on open-source patent breaches.” I am at a crossroads in what I feel is fair here. As above I am favoring competition but I also respect the rights to patents. What to do?

Old school connectivism, shortcuts & having fun… February 14, 2009

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I am amazed in our day and age the number of shortcuts that technology increases for us. Over the past weeks many of us have been talking about sharing and the idea of connectivism. This week that has happened as I have already blogged about, but sometimes the age old connectivism in person can pay off in dividends as well. As I was sharing my newfound knowledge about Google Docs with Jim (a fellow Masters student) he showed me a cool option on Google.

iGoogle is an option that allows you to create your own Google page with themes (the Earth theme follows the rotation of the earth…cool!) and widgets (not sure if that is the appropriate term) that match what you want/need. There are many options that go from useful to sublime, entertainment to educational, etc. This iGoogle has allowed me to create a page that saves me a little time in switching from one application to another from the same page. On one page I have CBC News (useful in helping me find articles for discussions in Psych & Law), Google Docs (for my interactive forms), Blogger (for my classroom updates), Google Reader (to subscribe to my fellow classmates’ blogs and others), Gmail, and WordPress (for my Masters blog). This one stop shop allows me to do everything from one page. Below is a screenshot of what my iGoogle looks like.

iGoogle screenshot

There are many other options to look at. You can add tabs and when I explored this I named the tab educational and a bunch of educational resources came up. Try it out. If anything it might save you some time and its just fun exploring anyway.

Wow… February 14, 2009

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I was surfing tonight and came across what I can only imagine would be an awesome addition to hands on learning, as well as being an interesting way for people to interact with media. These Siftables, a small cube like computer, can act and interact together in unique ways to create music, teach math, reading, for all ages. This truly opens up the door to people who find themselves kinesthetic learning. Though initially seen as blocks by younger children I think as the child ages the level of appreciation would increase. Please check this out it is simply amazing.

Connectivism revisited… February 12, 2009

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Over the past week I have begun to see, much more than ever before, the value of connectivism. I have found blogs from colleagues to be enlightening and a powerful resource to share support and ideas with one another. My initial experience with Twitter was lackluster at the best. Initially I saw little value in a 140 letter message to be of any good. How can this connect people to anything worthwhile? Did I really care so-and-so was going into a grocery store? How about what’s his name he was going to the city?

As first impressions went I was struggling with how this would affect me in a practical manner to take within my classroom. However that has greatly changed in the last two weeks. Google Reader has been at the heart of this change and two particular people in general: Stephen King and Sarah Hill. These two people through their blogs have inspired me to push me in directions I have never even thought of. Through reading about their attempts at trying new things or interpreting things in a different manner I have felt the urge to explore some of what they have been trying.

Today is a prime example of such an connective sharing process. Waking up I read Stephen’s blog entry on Google Docs and Forms, which was inspired for him by Sarah’s blog (a cyclical process to quote Steve Kemp). In reading both blogs I was inspired to take a stab at exploring Google Docs. This exploration led me to create a Form for my Law class to try Journaling online. Entering their name, a small poll, plus their journal reflection, sends that info to a spreadsheet document for my perusal. This allows me to connect to students via my blog (where the Form is embedded), technology, and enables me to collect info in a much different way. This info I can turn into graphs that can be used to further class discussion. I am truly excited by this. Oh yeah, I save some paper too! A five minute read in the morning has lead to a change that I hope to turn out positively for myself as I explore more options to connect to my students. The cycle continues as I had to share this newfound knowledge with two of my colleagues (Jim and John) who I am sure will use this knowledge in their own classes and blogs.

Twitter as well has born some fruit. I am still a little overwhelmed with the amount of traffic that occurs on it. Perhaps Tweetdeck might assist me in sifting through the chatter, but I have as of yet found the time to explore that option. However as I have been sifting through the info I have found some useful links to blogs, news, and articles. Perhaps the use of Twitter is to find info that you may want to look for but simply do not have the time to do so. I have already used some of the articles and info within the classroom. With more time I am sure Twitter will become clearer to me.

Connectivism is becoming an integral part of my daily experience. I look forward to waking up each morning reading about and sharing with my colleagues ideas, thoughts and the learning experiences that each of us are having. This sharing strengthens us all, turning us into a virtual professional learning community. Thanks Stephen and Sarah 🙂

A tech moment… February 10, 2009

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With the amount of sports teams that CHS sends out on a weekly basis it is no wonder that many students miss during the end of the week. Yesterday (Monday) I had about 6 students from my History 30 class miss last Thursday’s topic of First Nation culture from across Canada. This was done through a video clip from Canada: A People’s History. This clip is excellent showing the various differences in society, organization and cultural beliefs of groups from across Canada.

I own all of my own videos that I show as I find that the library is not always proficient in keeping track of them (though I understand it is not always their fault as people always tend to help themselves without signing the resources out). Normally what I would do is try to arrange a time that is conducive for all those students [that missed] to get together to watch said clip, using my film or the library’s copy. Unfortunately the library has “lost” their copy and the students could not arrange a time and some wanted to borrow mine. Now I understand I should be sharing, but some students lack the ability to take care of stuff that is not theirs. What do I do? I have not explored the option of trying to “rip” clips off of Dvds and make my own compilation. Could be useful on a burnt disk that I could just recreate at will and not worry about losing the original. Makes me wonder though about copyrights?

My solution? During the work period I had a brainstorm and wondered “Why not check YouTube?” They seem to have everything else on it…so why not this video clip? Lo and behold after a few minutes surfing I found it. I simply embedded it into my Classroom Update Blog and there it was (February 5th), with the assignment sheet embedded right next to it. Talk about one stop shopping. The students can view it at their leisure either at home or in one of the computer labs. Solution found. Will I be as lucky next time?

Another step forward… February 9, 2009

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One of the ideas I have had [for my final project] is building and maintaining a blog for daily updates of the goings upon within the classroom. I attempted this a few years ago, but with constant tech issues from the school I quickly became frustrated and let it fade away. However, I think this is the time more than ever to try and recapture this idea. Over the past few months I have talked with many parents and a few of them hinted at how they feel a disconnect from the school. My original idea was simply a blog for students (to keep track of what and when we were doing things (exams, assignments, etc.). Why couldn’t I have parents do the same? Would this not assist in possibly increasing parental involvement within their child’s education?

Over the past week I have been diligent in keeping the blog up to date. On the course outlines that were sent home to be signed by the parents I made an obvious note for parents to read regarding the blog. As well with the next set of class marks updates to be sent home I will include a note regarding the blog again. Is this enough? I know some parents will, but some won’t. Whether it is to a digital divide or simply parents not active in their child’s life (educational or otherwise) I think it is a positive step forward.

Another idea I had last week was to simply not just list what we were doing within the classroom, but make it a resource site as well. I have just discovered through Scribd a way to embed notes/assignments within the blog. I have done this for two reasons. Firstly is to make sure that students can access their assignments [virtually] at any time (whether it be at home or school). This will hopefully cut down on the “I forgot it…” excuse many of us hear. Secondly I hope that this cuts down to any undue waste of paper. I often have to run off more than I need or want as students lose or misplace notes/readings/assignments. Now I simply run off enough for the class and if they lose it they simply have to go to the blog and download it themselves. Hence shifting more responsibilities to them.

Hopefully this pans out. I am enjoying learning what I can do with my blog and make it more user friendly and more interactive.

Sharing… February 4, 2009

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Last night’s presentation by Dean Shareski was an excellent one about the values of collaboration of ideas, thoughts, work, values and perhaps morals. I have been fortunate upon my arrival here in Meadow Lake to be able to learn from some of the best teachers I have had the pleasure to meet. What makes these teachers the best I have ever worked with? Collaboration! Unlike my previous teaching experience teachers within Carpenter High are very open to working together, sharing ideas, resources, labs, computers, time, etc. This sharing permeates the atmosphere of CHS causing a very strong will to help students succeed.

Upon my arrival here back in 2001 a senior social science teacher took me under his wing to share his “isms”, experiences, and most importantly resources. As a beginning teacher with a new curriculum and the spectre of departmentals hanging over me, his help was greatly appreciated. This sharing allowed me to survive what would have been a tough year. Since then I have vowed to “pay it forward” and become as open to sharing anything I can without hesitation. Just this past week a superintendant contacted me via email about the resources I used in Psych 30. I guess his daughter (whom I have taught) is engaged to a young man who just was hired to teach this course for the first time. Without thinking I simply copied everything (notes, tests, movies, etc.) to assist him in making the most of his first year. Whether it be at Carpenter, or elsewhere, [modeling] sharing only helps improve one another [in educating] and ultimately, we hope, benefits the students.