Helen, my very close friend, gave me this plaque as a Christmas present. She said the words here reminded her of me. Can you guess already that my eyes were watering as I read what is written there? To think that she connected this message to the work I try and do touched my heart. It’s a wonderful reminder I will carry with me through 2012. If my words can help others then maybe I need to devote more time to this space in this coming year. Let’s see how that pans out shall we!
What’s been really lovely about the start of 2012 is a reunion being held in a Flickr group of some of the members of the 2008/9 International PLP cohort. Back in 2008, we participated in a 31 day photo challenge, led by our Group Leader Darren Kuropatwa who hails from Canada. Darren has organised the activity again, and joining him are Hiram Cuevas, Susan Carter Morgan, Melanie Hutchinson, Alex Ragone, Derek Willard, Carey Pohanka and myself. We are trying to post a photo a day (the above photo is my contribution for today) and already I am enjoying insights into my online friend’s lives. It’s fascinating when I realise that since we first participated in that PLP group I have met Susan, Melanie, Alex and Carey face to face. It really is amazing the experiences I have had since starting this blog.
This was Melanie Hutchinson’s first picture for 2012 in the Flickr group. It’s a road in the Catskill mountains, and Melanie described it like this, “…leading to some light- just like 2012 stretching ahead.”
It’s how I feel about 2012. I feel like I am moving into light, after being in a couple of dark patches over the last couple of years. It’s affirming. I feel positive about the future, both in a personal and professional sense. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in an even year – in my book, they’re the good ones. There’s no Mayan calendar apocalyptic doom and gloom in my outlook. I hope you’re feeling the same way.
Wow. We had an amazing couple of days last week at my school using Skype to connect our students to the world.
First stop was Buffalo, New York, when Laura Stockman skyped into our Grade 5 class. They were learning about her good works because they have been doing some themselves . Our Junior School last week raised $2,700 to help victims of the bushfires. I was just going to refer to Laura’s site and Working together 2 make a difference, but Angela Stockman was on Twitter and suggested that Laura could Skype in.
The Grade 5 students were amazed that someone from New York State was looking at them and answering their questions. It has given them a real boost as they think about what they may be able to do to make a difference. Glenn, their teacher was thrilled and went on to discuss it with his staff at their staff meeting.
Stop 2. Hiram Cuevas organised for his school, St. Christopher’s in Virginia, to Skype with our students and staff about the bushfire situation here in Victoria. This was initiated because St. Christopher’s has committed to doing something in response to the crisis. We set up the call and arranged for student and staff representatives to take part with both of us using webcams to enable us to see one another. It was a great connection (thank goodness!) and a very powerful half an hour that we spent together. Hiram wanted his students to have a connection with people living in the State of Victoria so that his students could have some sense of the tragedy. Our school receptionist, Chantal, lost a house in the Kinglake fire and was able to convey her sense of loss and resulting experiences.
Hiram ustreamed the session and apparently we had 71 viewers at one stage. Amazing. All parties benefited enormously from this connection. Our staff and students were touched by the care and compassion reaching our from a school thousands of miles away. Hiram’s school is a member of our international PLP cohort; the learning is proving to be a rich experience for us all.
Stop 3: Same day, different time. Amanda Ritter organised for our students to participate in Matt Montagne’s student run podcast, Gator Radio. Matt put out a call on Twitter for Australian schools who could skype in for a question/answer session about the Victorian Bushfires. Our students were thrilled to be ‘on air’ and were marvelling at the end of the day about how great these experiences were.
Next stop is Tuesday morning for me. I’m skyping into Lisa Parisi’s Global Awareness Club. This is a group of Grade 5 students and the question I’m dealing with is ‘Why is it important to have a global perspective?’ or words to that effect. I’m looking forward to it.
Skype is such a powerful tool for making connections. With a webcam you can really enable your students to feel like they’re somewhere else. Who knows how this kind of connective experience will look in the future? Something like Cisco’s Telepresence technology could really make us feel like we are in the same room. I’d love to give that a go. If you’re listening Cisco, I’m willing and able and I bet I could line a few students up who’d be in like a shot too!
Because a ning helps build community amongst your students. And a community that is supportive of one another and where students feel comfortable sharing is one where learning can thrive.
So what does it need to achieve this? It needs motivated and interested leaders who can prompt discussion and help foster it. It needs buy in.
It’s what I’m trying to develop this year with the Year 9 English students and staff at my school. I posted this comment on our International PLP ning in reference to it;
I launched a ning this week for our Yr 9 English students- approx 80 students in all. More than half the yr level have already joined and some are posting comments over the weekend. One student even signed up at 10.55pm tonight! When I introduced it I made it clear that at this stage it was for our school community, but explained that we may invite classrooms from beyond our school in or eventually make it open. Right now, I’m interested in seeing how community forms amongst the yr level inside the ning. I’m pretty sure my colleagues will be supportive and will encourage their students to participate.
The sheer fact that kids have been participating without prompting has me excited. Now we have the platform to showcase what they can do. I hope to get them working on some digital tasks that they can upload and share with their peers. Linking our classrooms is the first step. Next step, the world!
One of the things I think I’ve observed over the past year is that there are many people in our networks who participate but don’t do. I think I ‘do’ or at least try to. We have to start thinking about the tools we can use that are going to extend the thinking of our students and help them make some connection to the idea that they can make use of these tools for their educational benefit. When I launched this with the students I asked them did they belong to any social networks. They didn’t know what I was talking about – the language was unfamiliar to them. When I mentioned myspace and facebook at least 95% raised their hands. I’m hopeful they will start to see the connection between what they are doing socially and what they are going to be doing educationally. Then they may see how it is they can create a very positive digital profile for themselves that will serve them well as they make their way through life.
I’ll keep you posted as to how our community forms and what kind of buy in we have. And I promise I’ll be honest about it. If it’s not succeeding I’ll let you know, and if if it’s thriving, I’ll be doubly sure to let you know!!