Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for January, 2008

Social network sites in the classroom
January 17th, 2008

The Economist has set up a debate between Ewan McIntosh (National Adviser on Learning and Technology Futures for Learning and Teaching Scotland) and Michael Bugeja (Director of Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, ISU). The debating topic ~ “Social Networking: does it bring positive change to education?”

Danah Boyd wrote an excellent post reflecting on the debate. Her thoughts mirror my feelings on social network sites and their place in education. I commented on her post as follows.

‘Danah – A post that emulates my own thinking. Facebook and MySpace are not tools that can be embedded into a teaching and learning curriculum. I personally cannot imagine incorporating Facebook or Myspace into a teaching programme.There are better strategies and tactics that one can use to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Blogs, wikis and Flickr – sure, they can be used to augment learning and provide opportunities for collaboration.

As I say at the beginning of all my workshops… as a teacher I have a ‘backpack’ of tools that I draw upon to teach and foster learning. What do I find when I reach into that ‘backpack’? Whiteboard markers, exams, rulers, field trips, debates, pens, text books, metaphor, discussions, pencils, storytelling, writing responses and… technology now and then. What do I mean by technology in this case? It could include the Internet, Word, blogs, wikis and others.

Facebook and MySpace have their place in the community. I simply cannot see either of these being written into one of my teaching programmes at this point in time. Yes, technology is not the universal cure and it is not the enemy. Technology is just another tool, a way, a thing. I wish I had written your post Danah. I often relate these ideas to other teachers. I think I should write more.’

Will Richardson, whose post alerted myself to Danah’s wrote some telling thoughts on the issue of Social Network Sites as well. Will writes that he finds tools such as Facebook to be redundant with reference to the other tools that he employs. I agree.

I gave Facebook a trial and frankly it did not impress me. The ‘games’, comparatison tests, super wall stuff and the rest of it just seemed to be so puerile and a complete waste of time. Do I really care that someone likes the same movies as myself? I ask, will that knowledge assist the planet in its rotation around the sun? No, it will not. There are more significant matters in life. As I posted on my own Facebook site I felt that it was not a great tool. I have not looked at it for a while now. I could not employ this tool in the classroom. It is a great vehicle for maintaining tabs on friends near and far but right now I could not see it incorporated into my teaching programme.

MySpace is simply not for my classroom or for me. I gave it a try to and in fact I am in the midst, albeit part time, of trying to code an elegant looking MySpace page. My dislike of MySpace is well documented elsewhere in this blog yet I am willing to see what I can do with it. I dislike MySpace for a number of reasons. I find the interface to be clunky and ugly. I also believe that people waste a great deal of valuable time with their use of this social network site. The same applies to Facebook. MySpace in my teaching programme? Not yet.

On social networking sites Danah wrote, “I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why social network sites (or networking ones) should be used in the classroom. Those tools are primarily about socializing, with media and information sharing there to prop up the socialization process (much status is gained from knowing about the cool new thing).” I agree.

It really does not require that much thinking. To me it is plain commonsense. Just because it is a “Web 2.0 tool” it does not mean one has to weave it into a teaching and learning programme. As far as I am concerned any attempt to employ MySpace or Facebook in the classroom would be like trying to bash a square peg into a round hole.

Web 2.0 for the Classroom Teacher
January 14th, 2008

Sue Summerford has created this one stop shop of Web 2.o resources for the classroom. Her Web 2.0 for the Classroom Teacher page provides links to a multitude of tools, blogs, collaboration examples and more.

A quick Google search on Sue located this article that Sue wrote for EdTech magazine on the need to focus on educational objectives when selecting technology tools for the classroom.

Australians at war ~ history resources for students
January 14th, 2008

Australians at War and Fifty Australians are two sites that I share with my students when teaching the Stage 5 Australian History course in NSW. The sites are suitable for all students. They are particularly relevant to my students in Years 9 and 10 History when we explore the involvement of Australians in the various international conflicts that took place during the twentieth century.

Australians at War was created in support of an Australian documentary series that aired back in 2001 however the site has a life of its own. The richest area of the web site are the numerous video and audio recordings of the soldiers, nurses and civilians that experienced the various conflicts. There are also letters, documents and transcripts to support the embedded media. These primary sources provide a wealth of original material for students and teachers.

The web site also features pdf based resources for teachers, three games for students, an aptitude test and a page where you can construct your family’s war history. I was hoping that the family trees of other visitors to the site would be available to view however they are not.

Each component is available in a flash or html version. Some of the Quicktime media was not available however one can simply select the Windows Media Format material in that case.

Fifty Australians is simply that. It provides biographies of fifty quite diverse Australians and how various conflicts ranging from the Great War through to the Vietnam War and beyond affected their lives. The individuals include ordinary men and women, politicians, rock stars and even rogues.

The web site has an interactive tag cloud that features the names of all fifty individuals. The font size of their name within the tag cloud reflects the number of visits to their page. Each biography is well written and features photographs and links to related resources at other web sites.

I have added links to both of these sites to the pages about my father’s experiences as a Prisoner of War and my pages for Year Nine History and Year Ten History.

Are you reading these blogs? #2
January 13th, 2008

Back on January 1 this year I wrote a post “Are You Reading These Blogs?” Well, I have been catching up on the various blogs that I have subscribed to since my wife and I moved back into the home last Friday night. As I read through the week or so of posts I noted down about 70 things I would like to explore further this week.Well, all of those items will have to take a back seat. Once again I ask the question… Are you reading these blogs? Today I discovered two education blogs that I feel will benefit any educator that reads them.

The first is Kate 2.0. This blog is new. Kate Olson is a first year business education teacher in Wisconsin. Kate’s first post was on the 6th January and she has written excellent commentary on blogging, twitter and collaboration. Add Kate 2.0 to your reader.

Kate’s blog pointed me in the direction of  Transitioning To Web 2.0, a blog created by Janette Black. Janette’s blog is also worth checking out. Her post on how to use blogs to promote authentic learning in the classroom is legendary.

Sunday afternoon storm
January 13th, 2008

A few thunderstorms crossed the Illawarra this afternoon. The day had been warm with temperatures reaching about 30 degrees Celsius. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology at 3:31PM. The warning indicated that there could be flash flooding, hail and damaging wind.

The storm arrived about 4.00PM and there was heavy rain. About 25mm fell in the first wave and that was accompanied by hail. I managed to capture a short video and a few stills as the hail hit the back deck.

It was not as heavy as the deluge in December but I kept a vigil on the area underneath the home. We still have one more stormwater diversion drain to build on the northern side of our home. I checked the Bureau of Meteorology web site again and a second warning had been issued at 4:20PM. The weather radar indicated that we should expect a second storm front. 

There was a break in the storm and a second thunderstorm crossed the region with quite a few lightning bolt and more heavy rain. There was some squally wind but it was not that bad. Overall we received more than 50mm of rain and our pool was topped up as well.

One would gain the impression that Australia must receive a great deal of rain but much of the continent is bone dry. The map below indicates the position of the Illawarra on the continent. The clouds associated with the storm are evident yet as you can see other than the seasonal low pressure systems across Queensland and the Northern Territory the continent is largely dry.