What S.T.A.R. moments do we create for our students to amplify the meaning of what we're doing?
Can we inform students later, and start with the why of engagement, inspiration and then empowering through information and the 'how'?
"Real world" does not mean we have to take every student on a foreign exchange visit. Real world is no longer the long-term relationships we had to build with partner schools in 2005. Real world can be short-term reaching out to someone, just for a lesson, for a moment, to gather an empathy for how others might think.
Real world can also be imaginative - video games as a stimulus for writing, or TED talks for stimulus in reading and listening (and speaking!).
When I was at school, I wrote an article in the student newspaper (the Pupils' View) about how fresh, healthy food was disproportionately overpriced compared to the "yellow food" on offer in the school canteen. The result was that the Catering Director for the Local Authority actually left her job. And I got into a fair bit of trouble.
This all happened in Dunoon Grammar School, part of the Local Authority Argyll and Bute who, with similar sense of grievance and bullying last week attempted to silence one nine-year-old Martha Payne with a brutal, long-winded press release and ban of Martha's online activities.
Since the end of the Easter holidays, Martha has been writing a daily food blog about her school lunches, with the support of her dad, as a self-initiated writing project. It also set out in the noble aim to fund the building of kitchens for less fortunate children in Malawi, through the Mary's Meals charity.
Her first posts revealed the tiny portions (hence the name of her blog: NeverSeconds) and, yes, the rather yellow fried nature of her food. But things improved within barely weeks, and most meals were absolutely fine (a summary average of the scores she gave to each meal results in something over 7.5 - not bad for mass-produced school meals, but with room for improvement, a point which was very much Martha's).
Where Martha forgot her camera, she took to drawing her meal. She scored not just out of ten, but also on a health rating, how many mouthfuls it took to get through and, disturbingly, how many pieces of hair were found in it (I've yet to spot the post where there is some hair; again, a good sign).
This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.
I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.
Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve "deserts" to our children, really?), "afraid for their jobs". It was, according to one legal journalist, "one of the most piss-poor justifications of a ban of anything from any public authority".
Mary's Meals, for whom Martha's blog had raised £2000 by Thursday night, the day of the ban, issued a statement outlining the consequences of the ban on her efforts to build kitchens in schools in Malawi, a country with whom Scotland has a long-standing official partnership.
Martha's "Goodbye" post earned over 2000 comments and Twitter's #neverseconds tag went into meltdown. #NeverSeconds, the girl Martha Payne and, excruciatingly, Argyll and Bute council all hit the top trending terms in the UK. Her blog, having reached 2m hits in just over a month already, now saw its blog counter unable to keep up as she broke through 3m in one day.
And I was livid for her. How dare councils, and this council in particular, once more attempt to bully those in its learning community. I sent a quick tweet to the Education Minister, who is also the member of the Scottish Parliament for the area, requesting he do something in what had already been established a ridiculous and illegal abuse of power. He tweet back that he agreed, having requested the Head of the Council to lift the ban immediately.
Within 20 minutes the Head of the Council was on the radio, announcing a change of tack.
Argyll and Bute finally managed a new statement, the politicians showing more sense than their feckless faceless bureaucrats and lifting the ban.
As a result of the debacle, Argyll and Bute has gained a global reputation for awful PR, a tortoise-like reaction time on Twitter and, potentially, an interesting place to go on holiday. Was it all a tourism ploy? Given the repeated mess they get themselves into, they're almost certainly not not that clever.
But, on a positive note, Martha's long-term goal of raising £7000 for a new kitchen in a Malawi school was rather superseded: she was at nearly £50,000 ($100,000) at the weekend just past, now at £100,000 ($200,000) with more rushing in every day.
She has also created the beginnings of, hopefully, lasting change: she will head up a council summit on school meals and work with them longer term on improving the quality of food for every child in the district. Happily, she's back to blogging it all once more with the support of her school and, reluctantly or not, her Local Authority. She has now had her first kitchen in Malawi named in her honour.
Martha shows every facet of great learning: real world change, making the environment around her better, sharing her thinking with the world, having a conscious for the world beyond her immediate horizons, and robustness in the face of incredible media and social media pressure. She is another 'Caine', with a supportive parent and facilitating adults around her. She'll go far.
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
BP fell into the trap of having the emergence of far more networks and subgroups than were strictly necessary to get a result. There was a period where there was “always a good reason for meeting”.
Through social media, particularly in education, it can feel that there are just too many places to go, too many hashtags to follow, too many LinkedIn Groups and Nings to join in order to get some strong, actionable learning out of them.
The result of this over-collaboration can often be disastrous for the student publishing their work or seeking someone to collaborate with - "it's just another student blog", "it's just another wiki of debatable quality" might be the thoughts running through the minds of teachers and students elsewhere when the initial callout for peer support and comments goes out.
Even if comments are made, are they genuinely helpful in the way that structured, framed formative assessment can be within the walls of a classroom, or are they perfunctory "well dones", a digital kiss on the cheek before moving onto the next request?
Students who explicitly write down what they think they've learnt, what they didn't understand and what they think they need to know next time tend to perform better as a result. It makes concrete the self-assessment and peer-assessment we know help them perform better over time (cf Inside The Black Box (pdf) for details).
Learning logs were a core part of my classroom practice, having seen the effects they have on improving student performance in the bilingual schools of New Brunswick in my first year of teaching. A student there would write down what they had learnt and what they felt they'd have to learn tomorrow in order to achieve the goals of the project they had set out on. In paper format they were quite tricky to manage, and as students peer-assessed there would be paper flying all over the place.
With the emergence of easier-to-use blogs around 2002/3 I started getting students to keep logs of their learning online, instead, initially using the extra time afforded by school trips, before getting more personal blogs set up to keep track of their learning.
At the same time, Darren Kuropatwa, a maths teacher on the other side of the Pond in Manitoba, Canada, had developed an even more manageable and, I think, even more empowering means of having students think about what they had learnt: the learning scribe.
In this podcast series from Alan November, Darren explains the genesis for setting these learning scribe posts up, where one student writes down (online) on behalf of the rest of the class what he or she thinks they all learnt, and what they think they've not understood.
If you've ever doubted how a piece of technology builds upon what we know is great teaching practice, this is it. Harnessing both the online nature of transparent reflection and the constraint of not having a laptop for every child, Darren was able to create a rich experience for every student.
Originally shared October 11, 2007. Updated August 22nd, 2010.
As a high school French teacher I found the Sims one commercial game that had both the interest of the students and something that directly helped instruct the content I wanted. Since the early 2000s the quality of commercial off-the-shelf games (COTS games) has risen to match the values of feature films.
Most people's perceptions of games and gaming have more to do with the arcade or shoot-em-ups that they experienced when they were teens. How wrong (happily) could they be.
Certain games are incredibly effective at generating more expanded horizons in students imaginations when they are writing and speaking creatively or transactionally. But play itself is not easy to define. In school we have "play time", which must be both different and more fun than any other time in school. If you hear this three times a day over 13 years of schooling what happens to your notion of work and play? It can't be good.
Jane McGonigal is probably the leading expert in what games offer. She suggests that it's arguably not what most educators think. 'Fun' is but one element that many, but not all, games inspire in us. For learning this is great. 'Fun' gets you the same effect as in this video - you grab attention in the short term, you might even change behaviour. For a while:
The educational links have to be sought out, though, when the game is not quite so obviously related to curriculum. This is a skill and confidence teachers have to generate by playing games, or at least spectating their children's efforts and discussing the potential with them. Take Nintendogs as an example. In one Aberdeenshire school we have seen how a game about putting virtual dogs through competitions can generate multiple contexts for learning and activities, from running a business to art and design work.
Another popular Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) game, Guitar Hero, has been used in hugely varied ways by clusters of primary schools and their local secondary school in Musselburgh, Scotland. Depute Head Ollie Bray explains the background to the project, the planning that had to take place and some of the activities that prepared primary school students for a day of collaborative Guitar Hero action in the secondary school at the end of the school year to get secondary mentors and their new primary school friends to get to know each other. Activities included designing guitars, learning how to DJ, designing CD cases, writing fictional band member descriptions and life stories, finding out about suitable locations for a world tour using Wikipedia, tourist websites and Google Earth, planning and costing said tour, and, of course, learning how to play a real guitar.
We also need to consider the kinds of skills games can help students learn before jumping in. Marc Prensky's breakdown of the stages of learning in a game are useful for starters. Most teachers would see the 'how' in playing as the main activity in a game, but moving into the moral dilemmas and complexity of decision-making in more long-term "no endgame in sight" games like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon, we can see that very quickly students are moving into the areas of when, where and, ultimately, 'whether and if' type decisions.
Expanding the horizons of our imaginations The environments within Spore are far more graphically advanced and appealing, far more personalisable than anything that has gone before it. While we wait for Spore to hit the shelves, though, we can still get that buzz and expansion of our imaginations by touring around Myst, Samorost 2 or Haluz. Taking Myst first, a $20 game that has been around for 10 years now, we have ample resource on the web already to see how it could be exploited to bring students' use of language up a bar or two.
Maintaining rigour and engagement Tim Rylands is by far the Myst Master, using the dreamy and occasionally spooky landscapes in Myst III in particular to get students loving creative writing - and improving attainment as a result. LTS has also carried out a Myst case study to show how replicable this way of teaching can be. Viewing Tim at work you'll notice that although the method appears spanking new, the pedagogical background is as firm as it's ever been. I love the use of realia to help students find out what sand really feels like, for example. You'll also notice writing being modeled around extensive use of adjective and adverb, effective punctuation using the punctuation pyramid to differentiate and escalate grammar use:
. ? , !
. ?, ! ’ “”
- . ? , ! ’ “” : ; ()
He sits with the children in the class, with one computer, a wireless keyboard and mouse meaning he's not bolted to the front stage. He praises students by repeating, affirming their work. Students write, write, write, all the time engaged with the task in hand. The result is the kind of writing from young children that is well beyond their (apparent) years. And even with our youngest learners, these ones just seven years old, we can use paired writing to achieve equally magical results. The trick is not the technology, but the support it provides to a great teacher intent on getting kids exploring the wonderful world of words.
Visuwords.com was a wonderful tool introduced to me here in New Zealand just minutes before the workshop in Auckland, which will provide more independent learners with a means of seeing the connections between the basic vocabulary they already have and the new words they don't know exist yet.
We can analyse students' writing afterwards, seeing which words they are overusing or if they could make their text more powerful (by taking a deluge of continuous presents into the active (e.g. the clock chimes, instead of "the clock is chiming") by copying and pasting their text into Wordle.com.
The kind of tasks you can do with these games, though, is not limited purely to 'creative' writing in the fantasy-land way:
journalistic accounts of what has happened (past tense)
writing a transactional piece of writing (a cheat sheet or walkthrough)
And the writing needn't be done individually: group and collaborative writing is possible, too, either using the technology of Google Docs and wikis for some virtual collaboration, or using large A3 paper, rectangle drawn to create a large margin in which up to four students write a little before spinning the paper to add to their friends' texts.
'Free' writing Buying Myst or a bunch of Nintendo DSes (for which Myst was launched in November 2007) might still be too much of an investment for a teacher just wanting to dip their toes in the water. In terms of Dr Kawashima-like games, plump for Tutpup, a free online mathematics and literacy gaming platform that keeps children's identities safe and provides email reports for parents or teachers. In terms of Myst-like creative work, there are some flash-based free games on the web which provide equally mysterious imagination food.
Samorost is available in two versions. Samorost 1 is great fun, although the opening scene with a hooka-smoking hippy may push some teachers away. Samorost 2 is a great game for all ages when it comes to dreamy landscapes on which to base some creative writing. When I blogged about it last session Kim picked up on it and almost instantaneously jumped into creating some amazing teaching and learning opportunities in her classroom. Thankfully, she's blogged about the process and her thoughts on using the game as a stimulus for creative writing. I don't want to copy and paste her thoughts, so take a look for yourself at this great teacher's work, in particular:
I think I know the answer to the last question, and it's the answer with so much of this technology. It's not that the technology is particular cool, funky, well-made or educationally sound. It's that the teacher's style of teaching and learning has almost undoubtedly changed. We've been seeing it since, too, with Ant's students with additional support needs.
Here, in this last example, we witness Kim going from the unknown into the deeper unknown. Living on the edge, not sure how it will pan out, being on the same level of anticipation and discovery as the kids in this new emerging world, means that her practice is also constantly emerging. And that, as I have said [too] often, is a central key to us doing better.
Are you using games or game-making to expand the imaginations of yourself or your students? Are you talking about it on your blog or wiki, or even sharing your students' work? I'd love to know about it.
AllMediaScotland asked me to line up my top 20 sites, apps or feeds and, of course, it's one of those impossible-to-hone -down lists. I took up the challenge, though, and picked 20 from my "Read Me First" folder on Google Reader. Have a look and see if there are any new ones on there for you, and then, if the desire takes you, post your own top 20 with the tag #mytop20
A parent learns to blog on East Lothian's eduBuzz blogging-for-learning platform, alongside her daughter at Humbie Primary School. Pic: David Gilmour
Today, in a world of social networks young people have never written or
read so much. And now, a new more robust survey in the UK shows
conclusively that social networking, blogging and generally publishing
writing online does improve students' attitudes to writing by about a
sixth. I'd add that, in the hands of a good teacher's structured approach, the quality of that writing itself should be seen to improve, too.
Action research of mine that got published almost exactly four years ago showed that blogging within a structured learning environment improves writing in a foreign language, by providing an audience - and would help improve reading, too. Last year, Becta's Web 2.0 research showed that the increased use of social networks in itself didn't necessarily correlate to more creativity or better production of media, but that the role for mentors (e.g. parents, teachers) was still paramount in eking out the most constructive use of technologies.
A survey of 3,001 children aged nine to 16 found that 24% had their own blog and 82% sent text messages at least once a month.
In addition 73% used instant messaging services to chat online with friends.
the children who neither blogged nor used social network sites, 47%
rated their writing as "good" or "very good", while 61% of the bloggers
and 56% of the social networkers said the same.
suggests a strong correlation between kids using technology and wider
patterns of reading and writing," Jonathan Douglas, director of the
National Literacy Trust, told BBC News.
"Engagement with online technology drives their enthusiasm for writing short stories, letters, song lyrics or diaries."
Douglas dismissed criticisms about the informal writing styles often
adopted in online chat and "text speak", both of which can lack grammar
and dictionary-correct spelling.
"Does it damage literacy? Our research results are conclusive - the
more forms of communications children use the stronger their core
It's good to see some balanced journalism from the Beeb this yuletide, pulling in the pantomime "boos" of the National Association for Primary Education to cast a de-professionalising spell over any enthusiastic educator:
"Most primary school
teachers are doubtful about hooking children up to computers -
especially when they are young," said John Coe, general secretary of
the National Association for Primary Education.
enormous advantages in the relationship between teacher and child.
Sometimes the computer is closer to the child than the teacher by the
age of 13."
Nonetheless, it's vital that research like this being taken on board by those making purchasing, training and pedagogical approach decisions.
A question, then, to those in the higher echelons of classroom practice decision-making: will over four years of conclusive research tip you into overtly supporting the use of web publishing in your school environments, from elementary through to secondary and higher education?
Clive Thompson in Wired has summed up some definitive research that backs up what many of us have been saying from our guts for years: kids have never been reading and writing so much, and with the proliferation of social networks and mobile messaging this stat will only increase with time:
Andrea Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at
Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called
the Stanford Study of Writing
to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected
14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments,
formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat
sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of
which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For
Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving
it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.
The first thing she found is that young people today write far more
than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing
takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the
writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it
took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it.
Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.
Not only that but the writing is of an excellent technical standard, with status updates training our youngsters in the kind of "haiku-like concision" that their verbose parents could only dream of.
It's the kind of research that would have proven handy 18 months or so ago, when I had helped colleagues design some of the most forward-thinking literacy policies in the world, where text messages, computer games and blogs were deemed suitable 'texts' to study alongside the great classics. I got a bit of a hard time for condoning this at the time, and still get a rocky ride in believing that iPhones and iPod Touches could be amongst the digital toolkits in which our most reluctant readers might find the reading bug.
Through Techcrunch, Arrington geeking out on websites while the rest of us were watching and twittering the inauguration of new President Obama, we discover that the White House website changed drastically, too. The home page's main feature is a blog, with feeds galore, a weekly video update and photo slideshows. In the same way that technology helped win the election for Obama, we can only hope that it will enable greater democracy during his next four years as President.
This year is Homecoming 09, celebrating 250 years since we started reciting poetry we rarely understand on January 25th, the birthday of our national bard, Robert Burns. It is not, the Government are at pains to tell us, a poorly camouflaged cynical plan to get more tourists to come "back home" to Scotland.
My pal Craig McGill at Dada let me know about a new project that brings together all the letters Burns ever wrote to his many mistresses and followers, published on a blog on the day they were written. It's as simple as they come, but charming and insightful to the bard's many passions.
Robert Burns' Letters, being on a blog and RSS feed, would make the ideal daily posting on a student's personal learning page on a VLE, like Glow. It wouldn't take a designer or enthusiastic teacher more than twenty minutes to put together some nice artwork and the feed, and get some kind-hearted soul who thought it worthwhile to promote it and amplify it through the main LTS site for more to enjoy. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge... we shall see what happens over the next couple of weeks in the run-up to Burns' night festivities. For the rest of us living on the interweb, you can just head over to the site throughout this year.
School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.