Monday, January 28, 2008

It's a Different World

I live in the elementary world where students walk in straight lines and our hallways are considered the "Quiet Zones." Today, I had the grand opportunity to spend a couple of hours at the Middle School where the hallways are anything but Quiet Zones and there are no militant lines of students moving from point A to point B. It truly was an enlightening experience.

So, I had a couple of minutes and stopped by the Library to see what was going on. The Library Media Specialist was conducting a class with her students on how to use a database accurately while sitting in the front two rows of library using brand new Dell computers. There were a couple of boys in the back, that were not with that group, but working independently finishing up some project work.

It's neat to see some of the old students I had in fifth grade and many ran up to me to say hello, which of course interrupted the lessons in the Library. After the greetings, I spent a couple of minutes trying to get a feel for what the students were working on.

I watched one of the students in the back of the room work on a project about "Email Safety." Apparently he was charged with listing key points of what was considered safe. He went to Google, typed in "email safety," and directly went to the very first link, and clicked. He found a sentence or two from that Internet site and retyped it in his word document. All of this done within a matter of seconds.

Now granted, I have no idea what the objective of the lesson was or the expectations of his work, but this is where our students are at. Give them independent time to work on a project and they will quickly, without much thought, copy and paste or regurgitate the information without a second glance. By the way, he never left the first page of his search results for "email safety."

So after having the amazing opportunity to see students at the next level, I am asking myself some questions about what I should be doing now with my fifth graders.

1. What skills should my fifth graders take with them to the Middle School?
2. What am I doing well to prepare my students for the Middle School?
3. What can I improve on to help them be more prepared?

Ultimately, students are very resilient and tend to deal with the transition from the elementary to the middle school much easier than the parents. However, I was granted a glimpse into their world but for an hour or two and it was quite amazing. There was a tremendous amount of energy and excitement, hustle and bustle that simply makes for a dramatic difference from the Elementary World that I am familiar with. Not bad, just different. This is not to say that energy and excitement is missing from our elementary school, on the contrary. However, those of you that deal with Middle School students know better than I that these students are very active in a way very different from elementary students.

At this point, I am simply asking the question: "What do we need to do at the Elementary level to prepare students for Middle School that we are not already doing?"

I spent this last weekend buried in UStream presentations given at the EduCon Conference and had wonderful conversations with like minded educators who grapple with these challenges everyday. It has been powerful to see those educators who have discovered ways to manage the challenges, much of it by trial and error. I look forward to the challenge and will consistently reflect on what I can do to better prepare my students and my children for the world in which they are entering.

Wish me luck.

Monday, January 14, 2008

NOT Doing the Same Thing Differently

Ideas about the Read/Write Web
flowing through my head
Relentlessly reflecting
Creatively Collaborating
Voices heard that become widespread

Through these tools, I DO NOT want to simply do the same thing differently. I am desperate to help my students take part in the global conversation, and for them to experience first hand the power of networking. I am desperate to have my students take charge of their learning and create, design, and let their imaginations soar. But, I struggle with how to do this. I am fumbling along and looking for answers.

I am passionate about helping my students discover their voice and realize their potential. I simply do not want to do the same things I have been doing in class differently. No! I need to figure this out and determine the best way to begin and to create sustainability.

I would love to work on podcasting with my students. I have a MacBook with Garage Band loaded and ready to go. We have worked with this a bit with poems they have written from the beginning of the year, but it is challenging finding the time. Where can I find 5 or 10 minutes in the day to work with this? OK, there is playground where a couple of students can stay in and work on this. We can have a working lunch, and there is some time at the end of the day to work with this.

I am not sure what to do when they have recorded their poems yet. I am going to check out podomatic and see if this is a free site to use. I don't have a .Mac account so I will look around to see what is available.

Is this doing the same thing differently?

Perhaps but they are reciting their poems with energy and a great deal of pride. This is something I don't think I have truly tapped into at such magnitude.

Wiki Projects
Hmm, I am using PB Wiki for my own organization strategy where students can stop by and take a look at our class notes but it is not collaborative. Our students do not have access to the editing portion of Our Wiki due to our filters at school.

Can the wiki be edited by more than one person at a time?

Is this doing the same thing differently?

I think so. I have not wrapped my head around how to get this going yet but the students have been exposed to wikis and can take that background knowledge with them to the Middle School.

OK, we have started with this and I hope to connect with a local author, Freddie Remza, and have her stop by our blog to see the conversations taken place about her book, The Journey to Mei. What an unbelievably powerful experience it would be for the students to not only read a book, write about it, but have the author comment on their thinking. The students are engaged in the reading and writing and it will be interesting to see how this looks in a couple of months.

I don't simply want to do the same thing differently with using blogs and need to be very conscious of how to help students go to deeper levels and I am not sure how. I will keep reading and searching for ways to answer this question.

This is up and running but I am finding it challenging to put together effective curriculum based projects where students can have a true global collaborative learning experience. I need to think this through more and find teachers that are willing to work on collaborative projects.

Digital Story Telling
I have seen a collection of Marco Torres videos and seen the potential value in having students create digital stories. I think the first step for me is to find out how to create effective story boards. I keep hearing about this but need to investigate more. Staying true to the theme, I simply do not want to do the same thing differently. Learning needs to be more.

Social Networking
Absolutely out of the question for this year. Our school is just not ready to have students begin constructing their own social networks in our building and quite frankly I am not ready to help facilitate this either. Well, wait a minute! We have used a "Discussion Board" within our class Blackboard Site where students are having conversations among themselves. This of course, is a monitored site where I post forums, or topics and students will lead the conversation. I will help by asking guiding questions but for the most part this is student driven and it has helped me spring board into using our class blog, Fantabulous Fifth Graders.

OK, what are the social networking tools I could use with students in order for them to leverage their own learning?

1. Flickr
2. Delicious
3. Twitter
4. Blogs
5. Skype
6. Google Tools
7. Wikis
8. What have I missed?

Oh, did I mention that I would also like to help my students become proficient at evaluating websites, how to cite sources, utilize the databases we subscribe to, how to search the Internet effectively, maximize Microsoft Word, Power Point, and Excel for optimum learning, read articles online using all the strategies effective readers use, and get them ready for our State Tests? It can be done! It must be done. Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Pickin' and Thinkin'

I had a quiet moment after the family went to bed and tried "talking to myself" on video. Perhaps this is what Dean Shareski meant by a talking head video.

At any rate, just basic reflections of the moment about learning and trying to keep up.