The one off lesson – what to do?

We’re nearing the end of our school year. Reports are written, exams are underway, assessment tasks are all done. What do you do that’s meaningful in a lesson when your students are in switched off mode?

Today, I was inspired by the morning news. I listened as a prominent Sydney broadcaster made disparaging comments about Julian Assange and the Wikileaks release of incriminating data damaging to the US administration. It got me thinking. What did my students know about this and what would we be able to find out if we spent some time investigating those terms?

Using old fashioned media, a whiteboard and whiteboard marker, I wrote Julian Assange and Wikileaks on the board. I asked the students to open their laptops and, in the next ten minutes, endeavour to locate as much information as they could about them. I told them that this is what assessment in the future may look like. They’ll be assessed on the quality of information they can locate, the authoritative nature of it, their ability to analyse what they have found, and then create meaning from it. Giving them a time frame had them beavering away. Some were on the Wikileaks site, some were on YouTube watching videos about Julian Assange and his association with Wikileaks, others were using Wikipedia. Despite me telling them earlier in the year to use delicious or Twitter for search, none were doing this.

After the ten minutes were up they shared their findings with me and I wrote their answers on the board. Yes, old fashioned tech once again. If I were thinking, I could have used a Google Doc that I could have shared with them, or even better still, I could have had them adding to it as they went. Sometimes you think after the fact, and sometimes working the old fashioned way is just fine. Today, it was just fine.

They’d found an enormous amount of detail, especially about Julian Assange. We didn’t spend any time discussing the sources of their information because conversation was flowing and there was interest in the detail they’d found. They were contemplating the nature of the Wikileaks site and some of the controversy surrounding Julian Assange. After 10 minutes or so of discussion I asked them to consider their position on the Wikileaks site and whether it not they thought it was ‘right’ for the site to publish ‘sensitive’ information. Those who thought the site had the right to publish I asked to stand on one side of the room, and those who thought they should desist went to the other side. The fence sitters sat in the middle.I then told them they had 5 minutes to formulate an argument for their position that they would present to the fence sitters who would decide where to give their allegiance.

The supporters were vocal and generating lots of arguments, the objectors less so. When it came time to present their cases, the fencesitters overwhelmingly sided with the supporters. And that was it. Lesson over.

I think it was worthwhile. We explored a topical issue, we know a lot more now than we did this morning. We thought about our position and made considered decisions regarding this, and I’m pretty sure the majority of those students would have made links to what they did today with some of the reports they might have seen tonight on the evening news. A tad better than the ‘let’s show a video’ tactic that sometimes rears its ugly head at this time of year. I think so anyway. : )


School’s out Friday

Late in my time zone, but still current in others!

I love the Christmas season. I’m a sucker for smarmy Christmas movies, decorated trees, houses lit to the nines, and a traditional Christmas Carol or two that can bring a tear to my eye. Handel‘s Hallelujah chorus can have that effect on me, and it’s performed to very good effect here in a very non-traditional food court. As with most flash mob efforts, what really captures my attention are the rapt expressions of the onlookers who delight in what is unfolding before them.

Another Flash Mob viewing this week was thanks to Modern Family. I am loving this series and it’s take on relationships within families. Take a look at their treatment of the phenomenom.

Hope it brought a smile your way and got your weekend off to a good start. Make the most of whatever delights the weekend brings. : )

* Thanks to Ann Oro for tweeting out a link to the Hallelujah Chorus flash mob.

Google’s book to help us understand the Web.

Google have produced a very handy online book explaining how the Web works. 20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web provides explanations about Cloud Computing, HTML, Web apps,  browsers, privacy, and a number of other topics that many people would have no clue about. 

Most of us use the Web on a daily basis, but many people have no idea how it works or how they can read the information in an URL to determine the nature or validity of a site. The explanations in this book are simply stated, and easy to understand. As you’d expect, the book makes quite a few references to the Google Chrome browser, but that’s fair enough given that they’ve gone to the effort of producing the book and making it freely available for us to use.

We really owe it to ourselves to have a deeper understanding of the Web, especially as it becomes more and more pervasive in our lives. I’ll certainly be using this book with the students I teach.

School’s out Friday

Two weeks ago, my son came across this funny kid on YouTube lip syncing to some recent popular songs. I watched along with him, and my mind was occupied thinking about the background story of this boy. Why was he uploading so many videos? How had he gained such a mass audience, or as Chris Anderson would say, how had he attracted so much light? (The above video has been viewed over 17 million times!) Did his parents know what he was doing in his room? Does he read the comments left on YouTube and how does he deal with the ‘hate’ comments that appear on his videos? Do the positive, supportive comments inspire him to go on? How has his YouTube fame changed his life?

Some answers came to me today when I uncovered the video below. The boy’s name is Keenan Cahill, and recently he was asked to appear on a talk show in the United States hosted by someone with the name of Chelsea Lately. Her production team arranged for rap singer 50 cent to make a guest appearance in Keenan’s room and perform with him.

The video’s been online for 9 days and has amassed over 7,400,000 views already. Keenan has over 35,000 followers on Twitter, and even has a page on explaining the condition he carries;

15-year-old YouTube star Keenan Cahill has a rare genetic disorder called Maroteaux-Lamy Syndrome, also known as MPS-VI. Those with the disorder usually stop growing at about age 8 and are characterized by a shortened trunk and restricted movement.

This disorder, which affects one in 25,000 people, has no known cure.

In my quest to discover more about how Keenan came to be a YouTube star, I uncovered this interview with him recorded from a Chicago radio station interview in March 2009. In it, you discover that Keenan started uploading videos without his parents’ knowledge. It was when he started getting emails from afar that he let his parents know what he’d been doing.

Keenan represents the new breed of internet sensation. People who can attract the light to them and gain notoriety and ‘fame’ in the process. How long will it last and where will it take him? Who knows?

Me, I admire him. I admire him for having a go. I admire him for rising above the pretty ghastly comments you can find in the comment stream on YouTube that make me despair a little bit for the future of humanity. Make the most of your time in the sun Keenan and let it take you far. You’re certainly making a good go of it!

You, enjoy the weekend ahead. Make a good go of it. Think about how you’ll make your dent in the universe. : )


Learning happens

I’ve spent the last eight school days participating in a ‘camp’ program at my school called Creative Communication. I’ve had the pleasure of working with 21 very special girls who have all made an effort to extend their thinking and contemplate how we communicate in today’s world. They’ve been exposed to actors like Brian Nankervis (or Raymond J Bartholomuez to those of you who remember one of his stage names) and playright Joanna Murray Smith (a former old girl from Toorak College). They’ve listened to me rabbit on about social media and how it can make a difference to their lives, and we’ve skyped with Karl Fisch to discuss the origins of ‘Did you know? – Shift happens‘, and Garr Reynolds, who helped them to understand the value of communicating effectively when presenting your ideas. (I may elaborate on Karl and Garr’s sessions over the weekend). It’s been full on, and culminated in them working on a project idea that would reflect some of their thinking.

The above video, made by Kate, was a link featured in Passionfruit, a magazine published by one group using ISSUU.

I hope you visit their publication, and appreciate that they got this together in just over a day. They were originally thinking of doing a print publication, but decided to go with an online version knowing that it had the potential to reach an audience much wider in scope than just the school community. Another group produced a great video about the effect of technology on student lives, and will be posting to YouTube. I’ll definitely feature it here when it goes up. Others started blogs about things they are passionate about, and most said they think they will try and sustain them.

I do hope that this experience has helped them to understand the significance of sharing their work publicly. Yesterday we watched Chris Anderson discuss Crowd Accelerated Innovation in his TED Talk, and I tried very hard to get them to understand that these ideas apply to them. They don’t have to wait until they finish their university degree to get themselves noticed. As Garr Reynolds told them, we can all make a dent in the universe if we go about it the right way.

(By the way,  thanks to Derek Wenmoth, I’ve just been scanning the latest Horizon Report focused on Australia and New Zealand. Reading this confirms my belief that helping my students understand the value of sharing their work in online spaces, and making connections with experts and others interested in their passions, is what I need to to be doing. Stuffing content down their throats might help them pass an exam, but it won’t teach them the skills they need to be successful in today’s world.)

Thanks girls, it was a pleasure sharing this time with you. Hope you felt the same way. : )

School’s out Friday

I enjoy Simon’s cat. Having two cats myself, I can identify with the behaviours on display in Simon’s animations. This one takes my fancy because Bella, one of my cats, will position herself under lamps when I’m correcting school work.

I’ve had another very busy week, and I’m just about to write about it too in another post. I’m looking forward to a sleep in tomorrow and some quality time with my daughter, who returned from two weeks in the UK this morning. When I got home she was already asleep, and we haven’t heard a peep from her for the last 6 hours or so. I’m guessing she’s not going to wake until mid morning, and hopefully will be back in a proper sleep cycle before the start of school next week!

Enjoy your weekend. I hope something special awaits you. : )

Teaching design for change – great ideas from Emily Pilloton

Emily Pilloton delivers an inspiring TED talk that is worth the 16 minutes you need to invest to hear her message. People who give of themselves to assist those in communities where there is real need are special. Emily and her partner, Matthew Miller, have relocated to Bertie County in North Carolina and are trying to reinvigorate the community by using design principles to transform the learning opportunities of students. Their hope is that the student led projects that emanate from this will help bring the community together and provide benefits for all. They are committed; both of them have recently studied and received teaching certification so that they can teach their design-build class called Studio H. Emily has written a post worth reading on Design Mind that expands on some of the ideas she discusses in the above TED talk.

Their idea is reminiscent of Project Based Learning principles and requires students to be immersed in what they’re doing for three hours a day. They are rethinking education to meet the needs of the community they live in and care about.

Lessons here for us all.

School’s out Friday

We’ve just got a Telstra TBox (to go with our 100G Bundle – I’m in internet download heaven!) and my son has been having a great time surfing YouTube and discovering cool videos. Well, videos he considers cool anyway. My Morning Run was one of them and it definitely fits the cool category. Watch these guys do Spiderman like moves without the aid of Hollywood special effects or velcro fingers! I’m in awe of them.

I’ve got a lot I want to write about this weekend if I can drag myself away from housework, or the lure of a sunny day. Stay tuned.

Enjoy your weekend, whatever comes your way. : )

Updated visual representation of Online Communities from xkcd

In the Northern Spring of 2007, Randall Munroe from xkcd created the following map to represent the real estate value of online communities;

Interestingly, they created a new one in October of this year that looks like this;

You can see the incredible demise of MySpace and the rise of Facebook, Farmville and Twitter in the recent incarnation. I don’t even know what Happy Farm is!! Visit The Green Eyed Monster’s blog where you can click on the same image and use the magnifier to look at it closely. It’s very interesting, and something to use with our students. It’s something they will be able to relate to I’m sure.