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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Networking in My Zone of Proximal Development

In the Deep End

CC licensed photo  shared by Flickr user edenpictures

When my nephew Jack was five years old, he was afraid to swim in the deep end.  My sister, Jennifer, put him in swimming lessons but Jack politely refused to go into the deep end of the pool with his swimming teacher.   I had a pool in my backyard and Jen asked if she could bring Jack over during the summer to practise.   I suggested she also bring a friend for Jack, someone who could swim a bit better than himself.  

I had noticed over the years that my own children didn't try to copy accomplished swimmers when they were learning to swim, but if they saw a peer, someone who was just a bit better at swimming than they, trying out new things in the water, they would watch carefully, and then attempt it themselves.  

This observation proved true for Jack as well.  He came swimming with his little friend Natalie.  Natalie was a novice swimmer as well, but she was just a bit more daring.  As she dog-paddled across the width of the pool in the deep end, Jack studied her, and it wasn't long before he was doing it too.  The next thing we knew, he and Natalie were challenging one another to jump in, or to swim the length of the pool; they even made a "slide" out of a float and slid into the deep end laughing and screaming. 

My etmooc experience has been very similar to Jack's swimming journey.  I have enjoyed the webinars greatly, but sometimes, the information is over my head and I have to watch the archived videos again and again to try to understand.  (It is driving my husband nuts!).  I have also been following most of the Google+ Etmooc Community posts, but many of my fellow etmoocers are experienced tech users with professions in IT and much of what they share is beyond my scope.   

Just like Jack, the people I learn most from are my peers, the etmoocers who know just a bit more than I do.  I think this is why the networking component of the etmooc is so critical.  I also think this is why I have been enjoying and learning so much in the etmooc.   Reading a range of all of the posts, I have found that I understand some posts better than others - those are the people I follow and network with, we learn together that way.  

Vygostsky's Zone of Proximal Development suggests that I learn best when a task is just slightly out of my reach and I am supported in learning how to accomplish that task (in school, we call this "guided instruction").  Sometimes, an expert isn't the best person to support me in that learning, they simply know too much, and perhaps forget how little I know.   But if I learn with someone within my ZPD, someone who knows just a bit more than I do, we can support one another to accomplish things we couldn't do alone.

This video is a quick refresher on ZPD:

The same holds true in my classroom.  I need to talk less and let my students talk more because it is through the conversations they have with one another that most of their learning will take place. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Digital Math Story

On Monday, at a 21st Century workshop, I learned about the SAMR, a model for the use of technology in the classroom.   But even before I saw this model, I had already decided that if I am going to be teaching with technology, I want to use the technology to teach differently.  I don't want to use technology as a substitute for our old Blackline Masters.  I started teaching with the SMART board five years ago, I want to do more with it than use it as a fancy whiteboard.

Since I started the etMOOC (Massive Online Open Course about educational technology), I've been  contemplating how to make students creators of knowledge.  21st Century learners are collaborators, creators, and sharers.  I knew that before, but the etMOOC has been helping me to make that into a reality in my classroom. 

During that same Monday workshop, I was introduced to a new version of Bloom's Taxonomy made for iPads: 

The point, of course, is that the highest level of thinking is creating or synthesizing, so I have been spending my week exploring how I can have my students create their own knowledge. 

I liked the way +Michael Buist uploaded a video of his students' completing a math task.  You can see in the video how he scaffolds their learning and understanding.  I was truly inspired by that video.  To me, this was a Digital Math Story.

I decided to have my students create videos of their math solutions in a similar way.  I used the ShowMe app because it is free and so easy to learn and use.  My students quickly caught on and in their collaborative groups, they used the ShowMe app to explain how they used the volume of rectangular prisms to solve math problems.  As always, I was walking around the class while the students were doing their work.  I was thrilled because they all seemed to be understanding the math concepts.  I asked them questions, they gave appropriate answers.  During the consolidation of our math class, we watched one of the videos.  We made comments and asked more questions.  Everything seemed great.  But then when I got home, I watched the rest of the videos, and I discovered so many misconceptions as I listened to the conversations they were having while they were solving the problem.  It was incredible learning for me.  

The next day we watched the videos and discussed everyone's misconceptions.  We also reviewed the first part of the 4-Part Problem Solving Model, because I realized that while my students understood the math, they weren't always understanding or answering the question.  

Today, we solved another math problem; this one required that they use their knowledge and understanding of the surface area of rectangular prisms.   I asked only two groups to create videos.  I chose one of the groups because they had previously demonstrated that they made certain to understand the problem before moving on.  Then I showed their video to the class as a model for how to go through the first step of the Problem Solving model.  

One of my students posted this on Twitter.  I asked her to explain how making the ShowMe videos was helpful and she said, "When I explain it, I understand it better afterward".  And THAT is why it is so important to be a knowledge creator, collaborator and sharer in the 21st Century!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Making A GIF- If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again - And Then Ask Your PLN for HELP!

This is my very first (and only) GIF.  I cannot begin to explain all of the learning that went into my being able to create this little baby - it's the story of my backyard by the way - but the hoops I had to jump through to create this animated image are actually irrelevant.

What IS important, is that when I first began watching Jim Groom's session on creating GIFs, my immediate thought was, "This is over my head, not for me, it will be a long time, if ever, before I can do something like that!".

But all week long, people in our etmooc community were posting their GIFs.  How hard could it be?  I felt out of the loop.

With the help of my husband, (much against his wishes, he has been learning right along with me!), I managed to create a GIF using the free GIMP software suggested in the Tumblr tutorial we were sent in our etmooc Digital Storytelling introduction.

I was so proud of myself for being able to create this silly little GIF; but then couldn't figure out how to upload it to my blog or share it on Google+.  Each time I tried, it would lose its animation.  So I posted a question in the Google+ community.  With the help of +Alison Seaman and +Andrew Forgrave I was finally able to upload it.

What did I learn?  I learned that I can do things I never thought possible; that an online PLN is an incredibly powerful resource; that learning is not easy, but persistence and determination will be rewarded; and that success feels really, really good!

As I re-read this post, I realize that as a student, learning was always easy for me.  Math, Language, Science, loved them all... I never had trouble in school.  Going through this etmooc, I feel, for the very first time, like a struggling student.  It has given me so much empathy for those children whom I serve that just don't "get it" the first time around.  I think that is the most powerful piece of learning in this etmooc for me.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Digital Storytelling - What Is It?

I thought I was on information over-load after the first three weeks of the etMOOC (Massive Open Online Course) I signed up for.  Last weekend, we were introduced to our new topic: Digital Storytelling.  I have been to workshops before on Digital Storytelling, actually even created some of my own "stories" using Movie Maker, so I thought this week would be easier.

I was wrong!

It was suggested that we start the week by considering the definition of Digital Storytelling as found in Wikipedia:  "Digital Storytelling" is a relatively new term which describes the new practice of ordinary people who use digital tools to tell their 'story'".  I soon realized that there are as many different definitions of Digital Storytelling out there as there are computers!  Everyone has a different idea of what Digital Storytelling is.

My children say I process slowly; actually, their term is "Mom's buffering".  Well, I have spent most of this week "buffering".  While I've been reading, viewing, and listening to all of my fellow etmoocers' different submissions, their "stories", I've been trying to decide what "story" means to me.  I believe the term "digital" is actually irrelevant - what interests me is what do we mean by the word story.

This buffering time made me realize that without consciously thinking about it, I had come to see the word "story" as being synonymous with the word "narrative".  I  no longer believe that to be true.  I believe now that a narrative is just one form of "story".  How narrow is our thinking so often in Education!  In our school board, we teach the children that there are six forms of writing:  Narrative, Persuasive, Report, Recount, Explanation, and Procedural.  Isn't that just so silly?  Why do we always try to pigeon-whole things in Education?  Isn't almost EVERY good piece of text persuasive?

And so what are my blog posts?  Are they recounts?  No - I don't think so.  Are they informational?  Certainly they contain bits of information, but they are definitely not reports or explanations.  I think of them as reflections.  What form of writing does THAT fit into?

And so I have discovered that I fell into the educational trap of thinking in black and white, thinking in the box, and was shocked to realize that at some point in my adult years, I had narrowly limited the story to a narrative!

STORY is so much more!  I have been trying all week to put into words what STORY is.  STORY is sharing your vision, your passion, your understanding, your wisdom, your pain, your joy, yourself.

One simple activity we were asked to do in the etmooc was to create a Six Word Story.  Here is one I created with the app Phoster.

I was also inspired by a video I saw in our Google+ Etmooc Community shared by +Alec Couros.  It was a video of a bicycle journey in Barcelona at the turn of the century.

 It made me think of some video footage that my husband took from a motorized rickshaw in Bangalore, India in 2010.  I spliced the footage together rather quickly and sloppily using Movie Maker and then uploaded it to Youtube - my first ever submission to Youtube - no applause necessary.

My husband named it "Chaotic Passage".  I think it makes an excellent metaphor for this Etmooc learning journey I have been on.  Learning is rarely smooth, there are twists and turns, obstacles and distractions along the way.  And if you're lucky, tu peux voir des vaches dans la rue!