Connecting Globally

If you haven’t bookmarked the “Great Quotes about Learning & Change” Flickr Group, then you should do so. Right now. It’s a great place to find provocative images and quotes to use in conversations, presentations, and in personal reflections as well.

The site really is that good. This image is one of 706 currently in the group. Cool, huh?

So, I ran across this image today which is a perfect representation of my thoughts and reflections this weekend. Thinking of my Trinity colleagues who will be welcoming children into their classrooms on Wednesday, I began to reflect on my three years of teaching sixth grade at Trinity.  What would I do differently if I were heading back to the sixth grade classroom this year? The short answer: I would make sure that my students realized that they were entering into a classroom situated in the year 2011. Not one from the past…not even one from 2010. Even when I had a 1:1 tablet computing environment, I’m not totally sure that my classroom was as 21st century-ized as it should have been. It’s that whole “technology must serve pedagogy not the other way around” thing. In fact, if I were trying to gain some inspiration about making my classrooms 2011 ready, I’d certainly spend some time reflecting on the five axioms of EduCon, the above quote being axiom #3.

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate.
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

So, with those reflections swirling, I decided that my first step would be to find a way to make my classroom a globally connected one. It’s something that fits with each axiom above. Without a classroom to directly influence, I decided to reach out to my Trinity colleagues with three projects which look incredibly promising for the elementary ages. Within a few hours, I had heard from a handful of teachers who were interested in jumping in. In fact, our entire first grade team will be taking part in the Global Read Aloud Project this fall.

I thought I’d share my email here (and yes, I was lazy about the links!):

Dear Teachers,

Are you interested in exploring how to further the Mission of Trinity School and assist your students in becoming responsible, compassionate, and productive members of the expanding global community? There are so many ways to open your classroom to classrooms all over the USA and the world….and there are a number of Trinity teachers who are already doing just that thing!

I wanted to let you know of a few projects that I have discovered that seem to be manageable, interesting, and connected to Trinity curriculum. If you are interested in finding another project, I’m happy to point you in the right direction. There are so many resources out there and so many great projects, engaged teachers, and cool classrooms! I have included the top three that I’ve seen recently. If you would like to talk in greater depth, please let me know! Also, Marsha and Kara would be more than happy to chat and assist as well! It’d be our dream that there are so many globally connected projects happening at Trinity that Kara, Marsha, and I had our hands full with supporting you and your classes!

To Connecting Globally!

1. The Global Read Aloud Project: This project begins on September 19 (and lasts until October 14) and is geared to students in 1st – 3rd Grade (who will be reading Flat Stanley books) OR to students in 4th – 6th (who will be reading Tuck Everlasting).

2. Teddy Bears Around the World: This project has no timeline or deadline…it is geared to students in the Threes, Pre-K, or K.

3. Community Connections Project: This project has a deadline of February 2012 but it seems like it will be ongoing throughout the 2011-12 school year. This project seems to fit students in K – 3rd grade.

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Emergent Relationships

In an effort to get my Google Reader account to a reasonable number after a month of workshops, epic snow/ice in Atlanta, birthday celebrations, and life in general, I came across a post on The LIFT blog, “How to Introduce Yourself: The Value of Emergent Relationships.” On the heels of a trip to Philadelphia for Educon 2.3 and after spending over an hour this afternoon watching the livestream Prototype Camp presentations coming from Columbus, Ohio, I was intrigued by this sentence:

Complexity theory tells us that when an element of a system changes in quality and the linkages between the elements change in quality, it is possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts. — Ryan Quinn (@ryanwquinn)

Three days at Educon and today’s #prototypecamp presentations are, in a way, helping me realize that it may be  “possible for a new system to emerge that has collective capacities found in none of the parts.” We must understand the power of networked learning and create drastically different learning spaces if this is to happen, but I believe that a new system is possible, and we — and the students whom we serve — will be better for it.

As I followed the twitter stream from #prototypecamp, the following exchange between two good friends who were actually attending the live presentations caught my eye:

See another theme? These groups are leveraging value of places that matter to them (Facebook) to effect change. #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:35:56 via TweetDeck

@deacs84 yep. they are leveraging virtual (facebook), physical (school space), as well as emotional (empathy). #prototypecampWed Feb 02 18:37:50 via HootSuite

In their quest “to use design thinking to solve real world problems about the future of learning,” these high school students  were leveraging the spaces that meant most to them to find solutions to actual problems. As I think about the spaces that mean the most to educators, what are they? If they are only the individual classrooms where they teach (or offices where they work), I worry about our capacity for change. How do we get educators to emerge from the egg-crate culture of teaching and learning? How do we get educators to experiment with personalized and networked learning? How can we help to create paths which lead to new, diverse learning spaces — and ultimately — change?

The Power of the Preface

This weekend at EduCon 2.2 in Philadelphia, I had a chance to think deeply about what it means to be a teacher in a “technology-infused classroom.” When people think about the relationship between technology and education, they often credit what they see – the blogs, wikis, podcasts – and claim that a classroom is technologically advanced because of the tools. While the tools are exciting (and are definitely a sign that a classroom might be “technology-infused”), they can’t be the litmus test for classrooms.

When I was a classroom teacher at Trinity School, my sixth graders had tablets and used them in almost every subject area. On a weekly basis, prospective parents would tour the school and peek into classrooms. While these visits rarely made me feel uncomfortable, I listened carefully to the parents’ comments as they left my room. Often, they were discussing the use of technology (the tools), and that always bothered me. Now, as I contemplate the true meaning of a technology-infused classroom, I realize there was a good reason I was uncomfortable with their comments. Even in the most technologically advanced classroom, I believe attention should be centered on the student learning (or the collaboration) and not on the cool tech tool. As teachers, we must create environments where outsiders notice the learners and focus on their learning rather than on the tablet or the tools.

In order for that to happen, teachers must create a vision for their classrooms. They must relinquish control of the classroom and empower students to take responsibility for their own learning. They must promote authentic, dynamic learning opportunities through inquiry and discovery. They must teach students to be flexible and nurture adaptability and creativity. They must allow time for reflection. They must encourage risk-taking. [All of this should happen in any classroom – even if the most advanced technology in the classroom is paper and pencil.] And if the vision includes teaching with technology, teachers must seeks to truly understand the power Web 2.0 tools and model that understanding to the students.

In the preface to the second edition of Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts, Will Richardson provides an important warning to teachers:

“In order for us to prepare our students for what is without question a future filled with networked learning spaces, we must first experience these environments for ourselves. We must become connected and engaged in learning these new ways if we are to fully understand the pedagogies of using these tools with our students. We cannot honestly discuss 21st century learning skills for our students before we first make sense of that for ourselves.”

This is a key piece that many educators miss. It’s difficult (impossible, maybe?) to have a clear vision for a technology-infused classroom without an understanding of the power of Web 2.0.

Which makes me think…

I hope the teachers who read Richardson’s book don’t skip the preface.