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!).
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?
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.
One word at a time, Michael Birch, former co-founder of Bebo, has been working on a new project to change the way we look at defining words. Wordia allows you and a host of rather entertaining and famous people to take the HarperCollins definition of the word and attach its meaning to you in the form of a quick YouTube-powered video.
A week ago I spent a whole day leading a session on behalf of Socitm, the Society of Information Technology Management, where we were exploring the impact new media could have in Local Authorities and other public bodies. Most of those present were from the world of corporate IT and, as someone presenting a variety of tools they were likely to be blocking on their home patch, I was a tad nervous about taking them on this particular learning journey.
I needn't have been. Having explained in broad terms the main drivers of change thanks to this technology, I was able to explore some more specific examples of public sector engagement with the social web, from eduBuzz in the domain of education, to several health-related initiatives of the NHS. We saw how technology is taking politics towards the realm of direct democracy, and explored the potential for some of the mobile, ambient and participative media that citizens are increasingly using in their day-to-day (social) lives.
We worked through the afternoon seeking practical, do-able actions that these IT managers could take forward, without the need for engagement of the senior management teams or specialist outsourced expertise. They relished the task, and came up with some superb ideas they could implement in days, rather than months or years. Some of them have even put them into action already: take a peek at Stratford's homepage, complete with Twitter updates. Here are the rest, coming to a local council near you: What are the biggest challenges in your organisation?
When you've spent nearly a year traveling the world, to every continent, who wouldn't want to be a NYC cab driver?
Noel "noneck" Hidalgo is a bit of an enigma, and I was lucky enough to work with him earlier this year in the preparation for the LIFT08 Open Stage. At that point he had just come back from his On The Luck Of Seven project:
for seven months, he will traverse the seven continents, dive into the
seven oceans, and attempt to visit the seven ancient wonders of the
For me, it's a great example of the interest that's in everyone's daily lives, when you look carefully enough. Would your students know how to write interestingly about what might be considered 'mundane'? And why do companies still persist in telling me that most of their business is not 'of interest' to customers, and therefore not for blogging/filming/recording, when most people would have said that a taxi driver's life wasn't of interest to them when they were trying to get from A-Z?
Noel's just finished his first week on the job and is discovering just how much cabbies make - about $10 per hour. He's certainly changed my tipping patterns:
now the road journey begins. over the next few months, i will continue to push myself to do things i've never done - see things i would never dream - fulfill the promise made to family and friends from around the world - and figure out a way to worship the all mighty dollar in ways only a hard working capitalist can. "welcome to my cab. where would you like to go?"
Well, Noel, if you're able to pick me up from JFK on July 6th for the Empire, I'll bring the Leica... ;-)
What David noticed, and which has since astounded me, is the speed with which a holding message (pictured) advises readers of the page that information is likely to change quickly and be frequently updated for the next while, while the history of the page reads like a second-by-second data log. While alive, Clarke's wikipedia entry was edited at a rate of about three screens worth in six months (October to March). Since his death, edits have been occurring at a pace many times faster - nineteen screens worth in just two days.
This tells us a lot about sense of legacy, and about the unexpected nature of his death (newspaper journos with nothing better to do often get given obits to get back up-to-date in case something happens unexpectedly, hence the quick turnaround of most famous people in the inside pages).
But it also reveals how inaccurate and/or incomplete that page must have lain until his death. Just how much data has been landed there, edited, debated and finalised, all because, suddenly, there is more of an audience for the page than ever before, more of a prerogative to get it right once and for all? It's not filling me up with confidence on wikipedia entries unless, of course, the person I'm researching happens to be rather dead.
The wiki sums up a lot of the ethos of eduBuzz and the East Lothian Teaching and Learning Policy: openness, collaboration and the inclusion of all in the decision-making process. One of its highlights was the co-creation of safe-use guidelines for social media in the classroom by teachers, parents, students and managers over a two week period back in 2006.
eduBuzz isn't just the wiki, but a collaborative online space of over 1300 well over 1400 blog users and countless readers (1.3m page views per month) based on WPMU (see David's comment below about the problems of knowing the real, higher number of participants). While the online project was greatly enhanced by LTS funding some time and effort in an initial year-long period, this is a just another sign that the project goes from strength to strength in a sustainable fashion. Real community-building built on realworld tools.
Wikia is a separate organisation from Wikimedia, concentrating on how the conversations around content can help change the future of our web searches.
I heard about it this time last year and it didn't make much sense - too early, not enough there to see why it works. I wonder if, after hearing the boss speaking about it this time around, our joint examinations of Wikia this week might prove more fruitful.
Search results are already dominated by content from conversations: blogs, Flickr images, forums and, of course, Wikepedia. The problem is the sheer quantity of content. On a search for the Muppets, Wikipedia returns 300 pages.
If you're a die-hard fan of the Muppets, though, where is the best place to go? On Wikia, we can see 15,271 articles about the Muppets, created under a framework of fans in a separate "Muppet Wiki". Its Muppet fan founder says: "This is just the beginning". In World of Warcraft, the game's creators simply don't have the manpower and expertise to document the game, so under the framework of fans in Wikia they have found a way to keep things up-to-date.
It differs from Wikipedia in the human element that has been added: a social network. To take part you have to create a Facebook-like or LinkedIn-like profile, where other users assign you trust and see whether you really are a spammer or just occasionally wrong in your edits. This, in turn, helps search become more viable, helping to push the most well-written, most admired content to the fore, not through algorithms so much as through human beings.
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.