Monday, July 21, 2008

My Wordle Tag Cloud

After reading Karen Janowski's blog and seeing her wordle, I decided to try it on my own. Here is the wordle tag cloud that was created when I inserted my blog url. I am glad to see how often I talk about people, conversations, love and learning since these are important topics to me. But I think it is time to stop talking about NECC. And I really must stop using the word "actually." What does your wordle say about you?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Art of Civil Discourse

I love to talk. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to most of you. But I do. I love to talk. But more than talking, I love to have conversations. I love discussing topics, hearing different sides, engaging in civil discourse. I grew up in a household where each night at dinner, we would have discussions about topics in the news. I grew up in the 70s. Women's rights were key topics of conversation. So was the Vietnam War. Integration of neighborhoods and schools was a topic much discussed. And, as I got older and more rebellious, I would come up with the topics - why drugs and prostitution should be legalized, why organized religion was the root of all our problems, why finishing high school wasn't really that important in the long run.

Now, I might have started these discussions to shock my parents (and their poor friends who happened to stop by for dessert) but I learned a great deal from them. I learned how to listen. I learned how to respond. I learned to respect the opinions of others even if I didn't agree with them. Basically, I learned what was acceptable and what was not in a discussion. So even if I couldn't get anyone to agree with my point that high school was a waste of time and so was going to temple each week, I did get them to listen to my point of view and I got to hear theirs, without being told I was immature, just a child, or just had to do what I was told. And I did find that this art of civil discourse came in handy. I was notorious, for example, for getting teachers to change assignments, using respect and reason.

Cut to the present day. I still find myself enjoying discussions. But more and more, I am finding that, online at least, respectful disagreements are extremely difficult to have. I have found myself following conversations in plurk or twitter about - well about plurk or twitter - and the comments made about certain individuals are bordering on rude. Why is it that people feel the need to make disparaging comments about a person's behavior just because they choose to use or not use an online tool? I have also found that comments to my blog are seen as negative simply because they disagree with my point of view. Now I do love that my readers show support. However, I want to hear other views. It's one way I learn. If I only hear from people who agree with everything I say, then how will I ever learn of other ways of doing, thinking, teaching?

One such situation was a comment to a blog in which I had briefly mentioned the topic of conversation for a new webcast. Chris Craft did exactly what blogs are designed to do. He added to the conversation. I found it quite interesting that, while I was in the middle of a discussion with him about my topic of choice, others felt the need to support me against this "academic, snobby, and uppity" person. I was excited by what he had to offer to my blog. And I added some books to my reading list so I can learn more. I, myself, did not find him "academic, snobby, and uppity." He was not disrespectful or insulting. He was broadening my area of understanding.

So I ask: When did we lose the art of Civil Discourse? When did we forget that disagreements are what move us forward? When did it become so awful to give a differing opinion? I'm obviously not the only one asking these questions. I have been hearing grumblings of the need to read blogs written by people with differing viewpoints. Even ISTE's May issue of Leading and Learning ran an article, called "Don't Feed the Trolls", about teaching students Civil Discourse.

This Sunday morning, Maria Knee and I are starting a new EdTechTalk show called Conversations. The whole point of this show is to give a venue for Civil Discourse. Come join us and voice your opinions. As long as you do it respectfully, we'd love to have you. I truly want to learn. Do you?

Picture 1 by Inkyhack in Flickr.
Picture 2 by Svenwork in Flickr.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My Summer To-Do List

I find it rather ironic that I spend my school year feeling overworked and stressed about the projects I am planning, the committees I am working on, the shows I am hosting, the classes I am teaching, etc. But here it is summer, where I have two months of vacation, and all I can think about is the work I need to do. And, I have no energy to do any of it. And, really, none of it is that important anyway or at least there aren't major deadlines to get any of it done. But I've always known that I am someone who needs to be doing. So, in order to help me break this ennui, I have decided to post my to-do list here. Perhaps putting it into words will help me actually get things accomplished.

1. Work on Collaborative TimeZone Wiki

This was an idea that was conceived at NECC when Jo McLeay (from Australia), Christine Southard, and I started talking about how to work together next year. We were trying to figure out if there would be any time that we could work synchronously. We struggled to figure out the time differences and realized that we needed a resource to help us. We decided to have the students create just such a resource. How wonderful it would be for them to work on this together and how great it would be to have this tool for future use.
What do I need to do? Plan the project. What will the students actually do, beyond adding their actually times to a GMT time chart? What will they research, beyond what timezones are? Is that enough? How will they demonstrate their knowledge? At this point, I have such a small picture of the project that I can't even figure out the questions yet.

What have I done so far? I set up the wiki with the basic chart. I contacted Jo and Christine about the ideas. So much more to do.

2. Set Up a Moodle to Use in Class Next Year

This one is an idea hatched on the plane on the way home from NECC. I was listening to an old podcast with Laurie Kort, author of Moodle Magic. She happened to mention that moodles would be good as online portfolios. I had been dismayed by the idea that our students leave our room with nothing because no other teachers are picking up their blogs, etc. Perhaps I could set up an online portfolio. At least they'd have that. And then I heard Laurie talk about the simplicity of moodles. So this summer, I want to learn how to set up a moodle and have each child use it as a portfolio. Activities could be put in, projects could be assigned, etc. I only have to look into it. I did receive, thanks to ISTE, a free year of Atomic Learning. And there are many moodle tutorials on Atomic Learning. I just have to get moving on this one. I haven't done anything more than think about it.

3. Planning an Online Professional Development Class

This was another plane ride idea. For various reasons, I have been looking into teaching classes outside of my district teacher's center. Next year I am teaching a course for our local BOCES. But I would love to teach an online course. And I would love this course to be open to everyone. So it would be free for those who just want to show up each week. But those who are willing to do more, can receive credit for the class.
The topic? Project Based Learning. The idea? Participants would follow guidelines to take a unit they already teach and turn it into a project based unit, adding appropriate technology as warranted. This five week class would cover the basics of PBL but would require some individualized work, too.
What do I need to do? Plan the class. Find a sponsor - preferably one who would be willing to pay me. Find a venue to hold the class so we could have conversations. I have already contacted Robin Ellis to see if she was interested in joining me. I have left messages with BOCES and a local university. We'll see what happens.

4. Get Moving

I need to get back into healthy eating and exercising. I said that this summer was going to be it. Watch what I eat, mostly eliminating sugar and white flour. And move every day for at least an hour. So far, I have lasted through breakfast each morning and keep blowing it after that. As for moving...I swam a few times, played tennis a few times. That's it. Nothing regular, nothing healthy. What did I do for this? I signed up for Liz Davis' new Motivate Me wiki. I haven't added my page yet but it's a start, right?

So I guess that's it. I was going to add the new EdTechTalk show I was planning with Maria Knee but we actually planned it, scheduled it, created a google doc to work on it, and have our first topic. Come join us on Conversations, Sunday, July 20th at 11:30 EDT to discuss intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the classroom. Colleen King will be there.

If you have any ideas about how I can get moving on any of these projects, I would love to hear it. I really need the help.

Dog by Jamelah on flickr
Clocks by Leo Reynolds on flickr
Moodle by Scholz on flickr
Computers by Old Shoe Woman on flickr

Friday, July 4, 2008

My Final NECC Thoughts

I've been home for a day and still thinking and dreaming about everything that happened at NECC08. So here are my final thoughts...maybe then I will be able to move on. After all, the K-12 Online Conference is coming up soon.

1. The Network
Of course I have to talk about the networking. I knew going to NECC that I was most excited about meeting face to face people in my network. What I didn't realize was just how important that face to face contact is. Jo McLeay is someone I follow in twitter and communicate with at times. But meeting at NECC got us talking about a collaboration. Now we have a plan for a really cool project that will fit in nicely with our geography unit in the fall. I doubt this would have happened without meeting f2f. Cheri Toledo is another person who I follow in twitter. She came through for me once when I needed a sounding board for a class I was preparing. I meet her face to face and find out she is the nicest, most supportive person. Plus, she's really funny. I enjoyed talking to her and seeing her in Blogger's Cafe. Julie Lindsay is someone I follow who, I'm sure, never had any idea who I was before NECC. But I went up and introduced myself to her anyway. Yes, I was one of those annoying people who said hello to everyone. Go ahead and hate me for that. Anyway, Julie actually spent time talking to me. We talked about projects I wanted to do but had hurdles. She knew exactly how to help me jump those hurdles. Now I am ready to move forward with some great projects, thanks to her.

Of course, I loved actually meeting the people I communicate with the most. Brian Crosby, Alice Mercer, Ginger Lewman, Kevin Honeycutt, Cheryl Lykowski, and Maria Knee - I loved tightening up our network. We might not have had the long, deep conversations there that we have online but we did have fun.

And I made some connections e
ven tighter. Derrall Garrison, Adina Sullivan, Scott Meech, Vinny Vrotny, Linda Nitsche, Stephanie Sandifer, Sue Tapp, Chris Champion, and Kristin Hokanson - I loved connecting with all of you face to face. And now I have some more blogs to add to my blogroll. I really want to keep hearing your voices. I'm sorry if I forgot anyone but the week is such a blur. And I love you all. Really.

2. The Conversations

I loved the conversations that went on during lunch, at dinner, during a river walk, on a bus ride. These were the conversations where we discussed how to bring in more of our colleagues, how to use PBL more in class, what we were doing that demonstrated best practices. We talked about upcoming conferences and on what our districts focus. We had discussions about our administration, our colleagues, our students. We talked about our families and homes. We really connected and I found myself learning more during these conversations than I did at the sessions I attended.

3. NECC Unplugged
I spent most of my time at Blogger's Cafe and NECC Unplugged. I truly didn't mean to. I spent all this money on the conference and wanted to attend all the sessions but somehow, the timing was always off or the session was closed out or the people in Blogger's Cafe were a bigger draw. So I stayed and learned. Kristin Hokanson talked about Fair Use. Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay talked about the Flat Classroom Project. Brian Crosby talked about skyping in the classroom. And those were just a few of the presentations I attended. I liked the closeness of the learning. I hated the background noise. And, sometimes, I was a contributer to the background noise. I apologize to all who were presenting when I started having a conversation with someone during your presentation.

4. What I Wish I Had Done

I wish I had gone into some of the BYOL sessions. I wanted to learn more about how to use tools. But I never made it. Something always got in the way. Next year, I will not spend so much time in Blogger's Cafe. I will not spend so much time networking and saying hello to people. I will learn how to use Scratch (unless I actually teach myself before then) and Moodle (unless Bethany, who I met at NECC, decides to help me learn). I am going to spend lots of time this summer going through all the ustream archives from the conference.

I wish I had spent more time talking to Steve Dembo about how much I love the DEN and how I want it to change. Talking to him about it as we were saying goodbye was not a good plan. And it is an organization I love and would love to help improve, even through conversation.

I wish I had told Steve Hargadon how important Classroom 2.0 actually is
. I send all new teachers there. It started me on this journey and I wanted him to know this.

I wish I had toured the Alamo. I never seemed to have the time during the day. It was right there, I teach a whole unit on the acquisition of Texas and the relevance of the Alamo and never made it inside. I did get pictures of the outside, though.

5. How I Feel Now That I'm Home
I loved talking to people about what I do and having them know what I was talking about. I loved finding people who want to join in collaborations. I loved (okay I know this is a bit childish) the recognition I received for what I do in the classroom. And, I am a bit resentful that the people I work with year after year have no idea that what I do is important and successful. I know I should just be happy with what I do and be grateful that I am able to knock down the walls of the classroom. But I really want others in the district to join in and take their students into the 21st century. And I really want to teach them how to get there. But first my district has to see me the way my network does. It's difficult coming home from NECC to be "just a teacher" again. I can't wait until the next conference.