Saturday, February 28, 2009

Project Sketch

Project: The Crayfish Chronicles
As part of the FOSS science unit on Structures of Life, students will work in groups to observe crayfish over a period of 4 weeks. They will learn about:
• physical structures of a crayfish and the functions of those structures
• suitable habitat for a crayfish
• if changes in habitat have an affect on the crayfish’s behavior
As students observe the crayfish, they will document their observations via photographs, diagrams, tracking sheets, and daily logs.

Students will collaborate with their respective groups to produce weekly threads reporting their observations and learning. Students will take photos, sketch diagrams and use their daily logs/tracking sheets to document their observation reports. The final student product will be an information report produced by each student tracking his/her learning about the crayfish and its behaviors observed during the 4 weeks.

Essential Questions:
1. What are some of the different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction in living organisms?
2. What do living organisms do when their environment is changed?
3. How do some organisms respond within their environment?

Enduring Understandings:
1. Each plant and animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.
2. Living organisms may behave differently if their environment is changed.
3. Some animals claim a territory and protect that territory.

NETS--for Students
2. Communication and Collaboration
Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:
a. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital
environments and media.
b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media
and formats.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


This article points out the obvious trends in recent years of like-minded people, regardless of their geographic location, seeking out each other over the internet for collaboration and amplification relative to their mutual interests. Thus, we have the birth of the “Collaboration Age,” a new and rapidly accelerating fundamental in learning, brought about by technological advances (whose developmental rapidity is ever increasing) that connect us with unlimited individuals and the unlimited knowledge those individuals possess and are willing to share. Collaboration of course is nothing more than teamwork, consisting of people being purposefully brought together to solve and/or create and in the process hopefully generate additional knowledge. But technology has made a paradigm shift in the logistics involved in setting up the team. The team is now at our finger tips, and should most definitely be at the finger tips of our students. (An attractive bonus outside the team’s immediate focus is that members -- collaborators -- can cross all time zones and be multi-cultured, possibly planting seeds of tolerance and understanding our world so desperately needs.)

The teacher becomes less and less a provider of information and more of a facilitator (“connector”) in the student’s quest for information and learning. How one goes about picking the gems from the trash is perhaps the top consideration. The deluge of information available, much of it dubious at best, must be skillfully pared and filtered for quality, and it is the teacher’s job to guide the student in developing the skills necessary to do this.

Although the author believes the “Collaboration Age” should be instigated into school systems, he seems to fear, perhaps rightfully so, resistance from classroom status quo. Change is frequently difficult for any number of organizations mired in the past, and many schools are likewise so. However, technology is a powerful force, and it is hard to imagine this kind of “collaboration” in learning not rooting itself, if only at a more evolutionary pace (which will still be quick) in institutionalized learning.

Messing Around & Geeking Out: How are my thoughts changing?

Being somewhat removed for the past twenty years from people who are in their teens, my knowledge of middle and high school students and their leisure pastimes is limited. Two sections of “Living and Learning with New Media,” “Messing Around” and “Geeking Out,” have changed my thinking about this age group. It has also given me a name for what I see my third grade students doing.

On a recent field trip to the Thai Red Cross Snake Farm, three of my third graders brought their own digital cameras, and two were using their cell phones to take pictures. On the bus ride there,
another student and her friend played games on her mother’s iPhone. In their weekly journals students are always telling about visiting Millsberry website or their account with Club Penguin. A play-date with a friend always includes “messing around” on some kind of technological instrument.

During parent conferences, a dad proudly told me about the videos that his kids, two highschool sons and his third grade daughter, make and post on their “Space” for him whenever he is out of the country on business trips. My third grade students who have older siblings are ahead of everyone in the class in their ease and use of technology, including me.

"Geeking Out" was especially enlightening. My idea of the “Geeks” has always been the nerdy kids who are the misfits among their peers. From this article, I now see them as kids with a passion. How wonderful to find a passion at such a young age and have a forum in which to express yourself--a safe place to follow that passion.

I think back to Clarence’s comment about PLN’s allowing students to have an authentic audience. Students who are able to connect with peers who have a like interest not only have the opportunity to get substantive feedback, but to feel validated. Isn’t validation what it’s all about?

Finding information online: How do we address truth and bias in the classroom?

Chris Betcher

Even though I use Google almost daily, it was beneficial to hear the search tips that Chris gave. I had never really understood exactly how to use some of the strategies, so it was good to have the opportunity to learn new tricks. His “Five Factors for Evaluating a Website” should be part of every technology literacy program. Teaching our students to be critical--to question, “Who said that?” “How do they know?” “Where do they get their information?” can and should begin at the elementary level. Speaking of the elementary level, the list of Search Engines for K-12 students is a great resource. Having elementary students searching through Google is most often a waste of time. They need search engines that will produce sites that are within their reading level, and sites that offer easy maneuverability.

Wikipedia! Interesting to get a glimpse of how the articles actually evolve. Comforting to know that there are Wikipedia Watch Dogs keeping an eye on the information being posted and keeping it legitimate.

I also liked Rob Rubis’s rule for the ISB middle and high school students, “Use it first, but not last.”

I think that in this world of technology and networking one of the main jobs of teachers is to teach students to think seriously and critically about the information they are reading—not to accept everything as it is presented. Students need to learn how to seek clarification, question sources and verify what they read. This all begins with good, basic reading skills.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Connectivism--Are My Thoughts Changing?

There is just too much in this article to disseminate and I am tired of reading it over and over. These are the major points that caught my attention.

“Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins.”

“Chaos is a new reality for knowledge workers. ScienceWeek (2004) quotes Nigel Calder's definition that chaos is “a cryptic form of order”. Chaos is the breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order. Unlike constructivism, which states that learners attempt to foster understanding by meaning making tasks, chaos states that the meaning exists – the learner's challenge is to recognize the patterns that appear to be hidden. Meaning-making and forming connections between specialized communities are important activities.”

Isn’t this similar to what happens in a young child’s brain? Synapses grow and connections get stronger, or synapses are abandoned, and the brain eliminates connections that are seldom or never used. Specialized neurons begin sending messages back and forth making connections and wa-lah! the child begins to take notice of the world around her as her vision begins to develop or she begins to speak.

“Chaos, as a science, recognizes the connection of everything to everything.”

“The capacity to form connections between sources of information, and thereby create useful information patterns, is required to learn in our knowledge economy.”
“Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”
The article states, “The health of the learning ecology of the organization depends on effective nurturing of information flow.” Then he speaks of well-connected people who foster and maintain knowledge flow. Some of us are very dependent on these well-connected people to do just that. Will they continue to do so?

The description of the cycle of ‘knowledge development” seemed to sum up the idea of Connectivism—that “personal knowledge is a network feeding into organizations and institutions which feed back into the network thereby continuing to provide learning to the individual. “Learners remain current in their field through the connections they have formed.”
The trick is to choose and maintain the right connections and watch for patterns, especially the hidden ones.

Are my thoughts changing? How can they not?

Skyping with Clarence Fisher-Personal Learning Networks

Clarence’s idea of the role of a teacher is to “hook kids up to other people as teachers—connect to others who are the experts.”

As a reluctant blogger, it was reassuring to hear him say that a blog is a place to grow—a place where a community of like-minded people can comment and contribute to our thinking and ideas.

He has done a tremendous amount of work to help his students understand the “bigger world and develop a broader perspective.” As I listened to him tell about requiring his students to read about current technology, news from Africa, global issues and environmental issues, AND write at least once a week about something that they have read, I thought about what an “international education” he is giving his students right there in Manitoba, Canada.

Three things from his talk:

1. “Kids don’t innately know what to do in a blog space.” They need good models to get started, and they need many models to help them see the possibilities.

2. Having the Tabs set for the students assures that they are accessing reliable sources and gives the teacher control over the subject, matter making the time students give to doing the reading worth it.

3. Using a personal learning network to get kids talking to each other, spread ideas and learn from each other also provides them with an authentic audience for what they write.

Hearing from Clarence about his many projects gives me ideas for a wider use of the ES Grade 3 portaportal. Finding suitable reading material online for elementary students is not easy, but necessary to help them along with their own PLNs.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why am I taking this course?

Like everyone at ISB, I use a computer several hours each day communicating with colleagues and parents, setting up Smartboard lessons for students, preparing in-class lessons and homework packets, juggling email messages, keeping classroom inventories, etc.

However, for too long now, I have felt that I am only on the periphery of what is happening in information technology. I’ve heard about “Wikis” and how easy and wonderful they are to use. I’ve even been signed up for one for over a year, but it is still languishing out there in the netherworld of the WWW waiting for my input. I’ve heard about “Flicker” and how easy it is to post photos for family and parents of students to view. And of course I’ve heard about blogs. Sometimes I feel that I am the only person with a computer who doesn’t “blog” on a regular basis.

Considering my limited computer expertise and that I teach third graders and am in charge of making sure that my students are on their way to having the information technology skills they will need to be informed citizens of the 21st century, I think it is past time for me to move from the periphery into the mainstream. So, the main reason I need this course is to make sure that my kids are ready with the computer skills and knowledge needed to meet their future.

However, I have many questions regarding their future: What do my third graders need to be able to do? How should they be using computers now in preparation for the fourth grade, fifth grade, middle school, high school, college and future jobs that don’t exist or are not even conceived of yet?

Overall, what I hope to gain from this course is to become more proficient and knowledgeable in the use of computers for myself as a learner, thus enabling me to more competently look for ideas and methods to use computer technology with my third graders that will be developmentally appropriate for them and relevant to their learning.