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We’ve had a class blog now for a couple of months, but I’ve noticed something recently. I was still the “sage on the stage.” I posted, the students responded. I responded to their response. No one responded to me.

Obviously, something was not working. I could do the same thing with student journals. Yes, the blog made their writing more visible, more public, yet it wasn’t anything that they truly cared about. In order to do this, I needed to turn the blog over to them. Once I had this revelation, I needed to find models of student blogs that worked. Blogs that mirrored the students’ passions. While trolling through twitter, I found one such blog in the Digiteen Dream Team.

To make a long story short, the Dream Team found an incredible learning tool in Lively, Google’s online virtual world. They have created their avatars, performed plays, and even “built” a virtual school. Unfortunately, this tool is being shut down on December 31, 2008. Needless to say, the students are upset. And they’re not taking it lying down.

Matty Bear

Lively Avatar - Matty Bear

The Dream Team is blogging, using wikispaces, and continuing to use Lively to organize protests. The most incredible thing is, unlike the vast majority of people (adults included), they are doing this in a way that is respectful of others, including the corporation involved…Google. Their most recent post shows thoughtful, carefully crafted ideas that demonstrate their thorough grasp of the big picture:

• For-profit companies need to make money from their products.

• Google is a  for-profit company, Lively is their product, therefore Lively needs to make money.

• Solution – Let’s bring money-making ideas to Google.

The most recent post on the Digiteen’s blog is a solution; suggestions on 10 ways that Lively can make money for Google. Their suggestions run the gamut from t-shirts and avatar clothing to charging for company rooms to asking for donations. However, their “pay for eyeballs” idea is the most innovative I have heard of in a long time. Internet marketers, look out, because these students are your future competitors!

Pay for “eyeballs” – Let users “pick” their advertising “bling” of the day — what they support and like — then, the advertisers pay google for each avatar that picks their bling and pays by how many other avatars “see” the advertising “bling” — literally paying for “eyeballs” — something that cannot be done in the real world.

Is this a David and Goliath story? Probably…hopefully…But no matter what the outcome of this particular fight, these ninth graders from Georgia are mobilizing people à la Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody.

Now that’s real learning…and real power.

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I promised myself this school year that I would move forward full speed ahead into the 21st century, use technology to provide students with a wider audience than their teacher and parents, and find ways to present content that was both meaningful and relevant. I have not gone back on this promise, but neither do I feel like I’ve moved as much as possible. Will Richardson might call this a “Yeah, but…” post, and it’s a reality that many teachers, with very good intentions, find themselves mired in.

Just some examples…
• iBook mobile lab: keys missing, dead batteries that no longer hold charge, newest iBook is 5 years old, oldest is 7
• 6 mac minis to be shared among 40 students in an open classroom, only 5 actually working (did I mention that they have different versions of various software and just recently had the same OS installed?)
• 1 video camera (yay! this one works! but keep in mind that the equipment is shared among the grade level — 4 classes, 80 students)
• 2 still shot cameras (again shared among the grade level)
• A school lab with 10 eMacs and 10 mini-macs which have been pulled from various classrooms who are awaiting updates

All this in a school whose mission is to “prepare children for the 21st century.”

I’m not bashing my school. Really. I’m not. (totally sans sarcasm here) There are many reasons why technology is not at the top of a school’s priorities. The pie is limited, and everyone wants their fair share. Truly, at this point in my life, there is no where else I’d rather work. Part of the reason I love this school is that teachers are encouraged to dream big, to be innovative, to teach in ways that honor each child. And yet, when it takes the students 15 minutes to log into their wikispace because supposedly its been un-blocked (interject sarcasm here), but they get stuck in a vicious loop of logins and DOE error messages, I just want to scream. Then they finally get to start a post, only to have to logout because our lab time is up. In the meantime, the other half of the students haven’t even touched the keyboard…again…

So I know all the pat answers.
“Put the computers in a learning center rotation.”
“Make a schedule.”
“Connect the computer to a projector.”
“Teach the students typing skills so they get done more quickly.”
“Assign the students roles (i.e. spell checker, typer, reader) to facilitate sharing of the responsibilites.”
“Use the computer as a teaching tool.” (read…the students never touch the computer)

At best, these “solutions” are antiquated answers, no longer relevant in a 21st century curriculum. At worst, the computer is rarely used by the students in any meaningful way. This cannot be allowed to happen in our schools. The machine that is education in the United States cannot continue to churn out students who are prepared for jobs that are either outsourced or no longer exist. Why sort and select students instead of providing opportunities for all to succeed? Why indeed?

In answer to these questions, teachers are making a difference in their own quiet way, in their own individual classrooms. Despite the many technical difficulties, the students plug away, using edublogs and wikispaces, communicating with their teachers via email, creating portfolios to demonstrate learning, and, hopefully, finding an audience to share their thinking and learning.

Maybe, for now, this has to be good enough.

A few years ago (well, maybe a little more than a few), there was a well known mantra in the DOE, “Don’t teach technology for technology’s sake.”

Basically the idea was that we shouldn’t be farming out our students to the tech teacher to get an extra break! Totally agree with this. After all, technology should be used to facilitate learning and communication, and the place to do this is in our classroom. But the other idea was that we couldn’t teach the students how to use a particular tech tool as a main objective. The learning objective had to be in a core subject area, and if we were able to incorporate Kid Pix or internet research, then that was a bonus.

My question is: Why NOT teach the students about a tech tool as a main objective?

Realistically I know that if you are teaching someone how to use a tool, and they don’t use it, then they will forget. That’s happened to me many times, and I’m sure it’s happened to you. Practice makes perfect and all that. The context needs to be meaningful and purposeful. In today’s world, use of technology IS meaningful and purposeful. One just has to take a look at India and China and any other number of foreign countries. As educators, we need to make sure that our students are able to recognize technology’s importance in today’s society. It’s the same thing we do for reading, writing, oral communication, mathematics, science, history, geography, the arts, etc.

I know. One more thing to add to the already overflowing plate. This addition, however, is one I’ll gladly take on. For our students’ sake.

SnagFilms is a great site for free, full-length documentaries! Planning on using this in my history classes!

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My most valuable communication tool so far this year as a teacher…definitely my iPhone. Oh, I’ve had fun introducing my students to blogs; they’re slowly making their way into the blogosphere with their class blog about reading. I know this will grow over the year as their baby steps become stronger and more confident. I’ve also found a VERY helpful site called LibraryThing.com which has made organizing the classroom library and keeping track of books much simpler. Yet, as I’ve detailed in an earlier post, communication with parents is key! We’ve set up a website for parents to keep in touch with us and feel informed about what is going on in the classroom. And as that old cliche goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

The iPhone, which had been previously relegated to the depths of my purse, is now out and about with me. When the students are working with their math manipulatives, or sharing a writing piece, or conferring up close with a friend, these previously unrecorded moments are captured, emailed to Flickr, and instantly posted on the website. Voila! Learning is happening, and it’s visible.

If a student were to respond typically to the question, “What did you learn today” with the inevitable grunt, all mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa, or auntie or uncle, has to do is ask about the picture clearly shown on the screen. Better yet, they can ask about the picture first! No beating around the bush, no pulling teeth.

An article in Midweek this past June summarized the results of a survey done on Wirefly.com regarding cell phone camera usage. Unsurprisingly, cell phone cameras are the “camera of choice” for young adults. To my mind, my cell phone is always available (I never leave the house without it), I can easily upload pictures to Flickr, email them to friends and family, and I don’t have to carry another gadget with me nor wait to get home to share my pictures with others. In fact, the reason I love Twinkle so much is because the picture option is so easily integrated into the text. It provides the ability to tell a story and share it instantaneously.

One of the big stories the past couple of days in Hawaii has been the arrival and subsequent vacation of Democratic nominee Barrack Obama. Now love ‘im or leave ‘im, there has definitely been buzz about town as people try to get a glimpse of him, not just for themselves, but to chronicle and share with others. What I found truly telling and a sign of the times was a cartoon in the Star Bulletin. Decidedly not the paparazzi, but a whole different breed, with a whole new tool, and a whole different purpose.

The Obama Watch

The Obama Watch


Telling stories and sharing them with others, in this case, perhaps one about a potential future president.

Don’t get me wrong. There are deeper issues in education. Ones that we address quietly, on our own, in our classrooms everyday. But perhaps that’s where the potential for change lies. We can’t address them alone. We need to take these issues outside, connect with others whose ed-views and world-views lie within the same or overlapping spheres. Let’s tell these stories…and tell them together.

I’ve been so busy with the first few days of school that I haven’t had time to blog. Animoto made it easy to capture some quick memories, yet still make it look polished. Uploading the pictures took longer than any other part of putting this video together!

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Since the inception of this blog, I have been doing lots of reading and listening, thinking and reflecting. Through it all, I feel a sense of discord and unease, but take comfort in the fact that it is a sign of new learning; my newest mentors being the words of Marc Prensky, David Warlick, Will Richardson, and Thomas Friedman, just to name a few. Of course, great teachers such as Dewey, Freire, Gardner, and Montessori are not supplanted, but rather juxtaposed, and their ideas carried forward into the 21st century. I am continually amazed by the connectedness of it all.

And so, you may ask, what does this have to do with the “bibliophile” referenced in the title of this post? Despite the lack of speed with which I post, I have created yet another blog, one specifically for the reading classes, and thus the bibliophiles, I teach, at edublogs.com. Again, an experiment in motivation, in the need for people to have conversation, good conversation, about inspiring words and ideas found within the pages of a book, be they physical or virtual. Perhaps this will allow the student who reads voraciously, to comment as much as he wishes. Perhaps the student who sits quietly, yet thoughtfully, and needs more time to formulate her opinion, will be given that time. Perhaps the relative anonymity (despite an online name that classmates will be able to identify) will create a comfort zone for a student who is afraid to share his ideas in class, face to face. If education is the great equalizer, then technology is surely his tool.

This blog is an experiment. While I may never be a digital native and may always have an “accent,” I do intend to learn as much as I can about this new age of communication and networking. This is all thanks to a very timely technology conference, Kukulu Kaiaulu, sponsored by Kamehameha Schools. If ever I attended a mind bending seminar, this was it. From the very first keynote (Will Richardson), my mind was spinning. Everything that I had previously held as truth, was now being brought to light and questioned, not only as an educator, but as a parent. “Put that cell phone away” “Use more than one resource, not just the internet” “Don’t use Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it, therefore, how can you be sure it is accurate and reliable?” “Video games are socially isolating our children” All of these (and more) were very common threads of thought for me and readily given voice in my classroom, I’m embarassed to say. So this online journal of thoughts and feelings and reactions will hopefully chronicle my journey, slow though it may be, and act as a catharsis (indeed inspired by the “art” of the online world). As a parent and educator, I owe it not only to myself, but to the many children whose lives I touch.

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