Last Friday, after watching Kevin Allocca’s video about why some videos go viral, I had a discussion with my class that went something like this.
If there is one thing you take from this class this year, it is this. Don’t wait for someone to green light something that you want to do. If you’re passionate about something, if you have an idea, if you want to pursue an interest, don’t wait for permission. We live in a world where you can start something if you have the wherewithal and desire to follow it through. Your parents might not like me saying this, but I’m not convinced that the only path to success is waiting for the credentials you get from a University education. I’m pretty sure that employers are going to be looking for people who have demonstrated that they think outside the square and know how to go about making things happen. You don’t need a green light – you can start now.
In fact, thinking on it, it was a bit of a short lecture rather than a discussion. It was the end of the lesson and they were wanting to head out to recess… but, they did listen intently, and maybe they did take it in.
I hope so, because I think it’s advice worth taking.
(And below is Kevin’s video, where he talks about green lighting at the end of his TED talk.)
You really just have to take the time to watch this video in its entirety. This kayaker has an amazing encounter with a Blue Whale, and his decision to peer under the water to capture images of this mammoth creature lunge feeding is bravery beyond my capability. My heart was pounding just watching this footage, heaven only knows what levels of adrenalin must have been charging through this guy’s body. That’s the intimidating thing about the ocean as far as I’m concerned. All looks well on the surface, but you have no idea what is happening beneath you. For some, that kind of risk is exciting, for others, it’s a little beyond comprehension.
I like thinking about the complexities of the human condition, and how experiences pose different sorts of challenges based on the kind of person you are. I like how being a teacher gives you an opportunity to help students understand their capabilities, and I love it when I see inspiring teachers take students in directions they may have never contemplated for themselves. I’ve just returned from our school’s Speech Night celebrations, and I saw students who would never normally be involved, performing a percussion based routine that was a real highlight of the evening. The man who teaches them is brimming with enthusiasm for what he does, and you can see how it has rubbed off on these kids. It was a joyful moment, exactly the kind of thing you see happening in schools all the time when students are exposed to passionate people. Our Head Girl spoke of teachers with passion for what they do when she addressed the audience. It reminded me that we must never lose sight of the need to foster our love of what we do and share it with the young people we teach. It can make all the difference.
Hopefully, some hard work this weekend will make a difference to our home renovations that seem to have a life of their own. The washing machine packed it in last weekend, and the purchase of a front loader has seen 30 yr old shelves torn out and the need for a new storage system and a coat of paint. That, combined with the the ongoing back room plastering and paint job, means we’ll be busy, that’s for sure!
I hope your weekend sounds a little more exciting that the one heading my way. Make the most of it.
OK. Part two of my quest to be a person who understands code.
For those of you unfamiliar with what code is, it’s the parade of letters and brackets and delimiters that makes the pages on the Web look the way they do. Without code, we’d be looking at computer screens full of boring reams of text and numbers. There would be no fancy buttons to click, no aesthetically appealing anything much to hold our interest. That’s what it was like in my College days, when I’d walk into the bowels of a primitive computer lab in what must have been 1986, and look at guys (because everyone in there was male!) staring at green screens typing in letters and symbols. Ahhh…the folly of my ways. If only I’d been paying a little more attention? If I had, I’m pretty sure my bank balance would be looking a lot healthier than it is right now!
Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a whole lot more interested in what is the backbone of the web: code. Because I’ve been using tools in my classrooms that sometimes require me to embed code to make things appear, I’ve begun to realise there are gaps in my knowledge base that need filling. I’m pretty sure I could continue on and function perfectly well without knowing the ins and outs of code, but there’s something in me telling me it’s important that I make some effort to have an understanding of how things work.
I’ve also begun to look closely at what we do in the school I teach at. We don’t offer formal ICT classes. We are a 1:1 school, and we expect that our teachers use technology in a meaningful way in their classrooms. But that leaves a pretty big gap when it comes to student understanding about the workings of the web. I don’t want the kids I teach to miss out on opportunities. I figure if I gain understanding, I can find a way to transfer my knowledge to them, and I think that’s important.
I’m hoping to learn how to have a working understanding of how HTML and CSS work. I’d like to be confident enough to construct a webpage myself; to be able to tweak pre-existing code to do something that can change the look and feel of a page. I’d like to be able to participate in discussions where I felt like a participant rather than an observer.
My previous post contained questions that I had to give myself a score on. I tried to be brutally honest, but I do have to admit that I’ve never really been able to bend a spoon using the powers of my mind, despite the hours of practice I gave to the task after seeing Uri Geller do it on The Done Lane Show when I was eleven. I think I was pretty straight up on the other answers though, and my series of ‘0’ responses attests to this. I know what it is, but I have limited knowledge of how to do it!
What I do know is that you can change the look of a page by tweaking code. Occasionally I play with the sizing of objects by changing the numbers in the code, but that’s about as far as I go. I’d love to feel confident enough to just inherently know what it is I need to do to significantly change something.
Jamie has asked participants to tell him what makes them happy. Plenty of things.
My son still holding my hand when we are walking in public places.
A student who appreciates what you’ve done for them and tells you with a smile.
My dog who greets me effusively every time I walk in the door.
My daughter sharing stories with me as we drive to and from school.
My husband telling me he loves me.
My parents being proud of me still, and supporting me in everything I do.
My close friends sharing laughs, and sometimes tears, over a glass of the good stuff.
Writing this blog.
Sharing my thinking with others and feeling like I’m making a dent in the universe.
Jamie also asked us to tell him what we’re passionate about.
The other week, I received an email from James, the brother of a student from my school. James contacted me because his sister Kate had given him some advice about what he needed to do if he wanted to pursue his passion, cartooning. Kate is a student at my school, and she’d told James he needed to use the Internet to get his ideas out there. (I think she was inspired by my words as she’d just been involved with the Creative Communication camp we’d run at school.) The upshot of Kate’s advice was that James started a blog. Here was what he wrote in his first post;
This blog started when my big sister said to me, “James, you are an awesome cartoonist, if you want to be big to have to make yourself big and that is to get yourself out there!” I then realised that the internet is now the tool to get the world to know you-who you are and what you can do. So I started this blog show everyone my cartoons and to encourage you to always follow your dreams- I know, big cliche there but it’s true. If you end up having a job that you absolutly hate, then you are going to live life wasting everyday and being unhappy. BUT if you do something you love you will feel good about yourself and that you’ve lived life to the max! So here I am, talking to you about what I love, what I do and what I want to become. Hope this inspires you to go for what you love, to always try your hardest and be your best.
When I received James’ email I took a look at his blog and was impressed with his obvious passion and desire to succeed. He’d created the above YouTube video but it was there as a link and not embedded. I realised he needed a bit of help understanding the basics of blogging. I offered to help, and spent some time with James the following weekend helping him understand how you hyperlink, how you embed videos and images, how you select a theme that is in keeping with your site’s intentions and how you embed widgets in the sidebar. James’ blog now looks a lot better, and hopefully he has some skills that will hold him in good stead as he pursues his dreams by launching himself into online spaces.
Hopefully, James will continue to be inspired, discover other amateur cartoonists and forge links that help him on the path he wants to follow. What I found really interesting about my interaction with James was that he had to find a teacher outside of his own school to help him. I’m impressed that he found my gmail address and sent the email off, but once again, I’m concerned that there are not enough teachers in our schools with this kind of skill set who can help young people propel their ideas via the Web.
Hopefully you’ll take some time to visit James’ blog and leave a comment to encourage a young man on his way to a future he is helping to create.
I’m a little disappointed that the elective I proposed for this school year, Learning U, didn’t get enough interest from our student body to warrant a class running. (It was renamed ‘ICT’ in the elective handbook – don’t think that helped it any : ( ) The idea of the course was that students would explore their passion and use the tools of social media to connect and learn from others who also share a similar passion. I think it would have helped guide some students to understand how it is you can produce quality content that will help you rise to the top. So, how will I convey this understanding without the forum I was hoping for? I’m not quite sure yet, but I know I’ll be doing my best to help the students at my school to understand that you can use the available tools, and the connections that are possible with these tools, to your advantage. But they’ll need to remember, quality counts while you’re at it.
Last November, I went to a dinner with Steve Hargadon, John Pearce and Jenny Ashby. While there, I talked about the Learning U idea. Steve was interested and we’ve continued to talk since about how it could be realised. The result of those discussions is Students 2.0. Here’s what it’s about;
Students 2.0 is a network for learners to connect independently with other students and with mentors–to shape your own educational paths and experiences outside of traditional institutions. It’s a place to explore passionate interests, find people to help you, and build professional competencies. Soon you’ll be forming your own virtual “Personal Learning Network” (PLN)!
I’m going to be running a series of ‘classes’ helping students to learn how to use the tools of social media. The times for these are detailed on the home page. I’m doing this not because I think learning online is all about the tools, but because I think an understanding of these tools will assist them to understand how they can use them to shape their learning experiences. I want to see students find a way to explore what it is that interests them, something our school curriculum might not be doing. It doesn’t have to be a purely academic pursuit, there are kids out there who want to be pro skaters. The fact is, whether you want to discover the cure for aids or become a pro basketballer, you would find some benefit in understanding how you use social media to connect with people who share your interests and learn how you can make your voice heard.
The network is up and running and we have seen a number of teachers join. The challenge will be developing the student community. I suppose we will be working on the ‘if you build it, they will come’ concept. Effectively, this will mean relying on teachers to inform students about its existence and leave it up to the students to decide if they join or not. The fact is, students are under pressure themselves with the expectations of school, sport, family and their social lives. This network is not going to appeal to everyone, but there are kids out there I suspect who are looking for something like this. If we can help some of these kids realise their potential in a field that interests them, then it will be a job well done.
That’s my take on Students 2.0 anyway. It’s kind of strange to read my words from January the 1st, and be contemplating at the start of April what might be possible now. Hopefully, it will evolve into a useful resource supported by teacher mentors and experts in areas of interest to the students. It’s somewhat of an experiment, and the hope is that it will prove beneficial. It may even provide a teaching model that schools can tap into. We’ll see what evolves.
What was most fascinating for me was Melina’s revelation that she did not complete secondary schooling. She left at 15, feeling intimidated by higher achieving students. She said she felt ignored as she lingered in the middle, neither here nor there, but certainly not a favoured student, not recognised for having talent. A remarkable revelation from an award winning Australian author who now writes for a living on a full time basis.
What she did do when she left school was to read voraciously, explore what she was passionate about, and begin the writing of what would become ‘Looking for Alibrandi‘, a hugely successful young adult novel that has adorned many a school’s book lists and been made into a motion picture.
I teach students who I know want to become authors. Our English curriculum in the early secondary years caters for their creative talents, but later on, we’re in the game of fine tuning essay writing skills and ensuring they can analyse issues. Somewhere along the line, we lose sight of nurturing the creative writing talents of many of our students. We lose sight of allowing our students to explore the passion they might hold for something that really interests them, be it manga drawing, or movie production, or jewellery making. And that, my friends, is a darn shame.
Melina also discussed her work as a teacher for a ten year period. Obviously, she did not let her inability to complete secondary schooling stop her from pursuing an academic career. I often talk with my students and discuss the fact that there are many pathways you can take to the achievement of a goal; an enter score is not necessarily the be all and end all of one’s existence.
Lots of food for thought from Melina today. She embodies a great deal of what is occupying my mind of late. More on that in another blog post to come!