January 8, 2008

The XO at Work

Filed under: Learning,teaching,XO — Mrs. B @ 1:57 am
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XO at Work

Sylvia Martinez touched on so many important points in her blog entry OLPC XO – Top Ten Checklist for G1G1 Reviews. After reading her words of wisdom, I felt drawn to tell my classroom story. Middle school students are unique, but I hope other classrooms are having similar experiences.

My husband and I participated in the G1G1 program, signing up on the first day and receiving our XOs the day after school let out. How I wish they had arrived in time for me to take mine to school before the break! I truly believe there would have been even more donations and happy recipients, not from my fellow teachers but from my students.

My students are the usual mix of geeks and non-geeks, wealthy and poor, and all ranges in between. On Friday I took in one of the little machines and talked with the kids about what OLPC was trying to achieve. Some of them had seen the commercial and were intrigued to see the real thing. Some were indifferent, but most were eager to get a chance to explore and experiment. I set it up and let them have at it, and the reactions started.

My geeks were entranced! They couldn’t get enough of the XO, peering over shoulders when their brief time at the machine was up, offering suggestions about what to click next, and troubleshooting when the current user ended up in the Neighborhood or Home by accident. When the bell for end of class rang, I had to shoo them on to the next class because they were trying to get one last chance at experimenting.

The other group that was terribly excited was the kids who don’t have all the techno-gadgets in their everyday lives. This was new and yet familiar to them. They weren’t looking for the “Start” button or the Word icon. They were busy clicking and playing and asking questions. Since we’d only had the XOs for a couple of weeks (filled with holidays and grandkids, and grown children moving) we hadn’t had time to explore the machines ourselves, so my response to each question was consistent, “I don’t know. Why don’t you click and find out?” What a world it opened up for them. Of course the video and photo options were quickly explored, but the music app was a close second. The turtle and programming apps didn’t hold their interest on the first go ’round, but some said they wanted more time and would I please, please bring the machine back on Monday.

But there were kids who seemed to highlight what Sylvia pointed out, “You aren’t the customer” and “It’s not a ‘cheap’ version of your laptop.” They quickly lost interest and went back to working on their projects in PowerPoint. I’m not trying to over-generalize, but for the most part these seemed to be the kids that have the latest cell phones, the ones to whom Santa brought a new laptop, and the ones that can’t wait to pull out their PSPs at lunch. They couldn’t seem to see beyond the small keyboard and the lack of flashiness.

The tide turned a bit, however, when I brought both machines on the following Monday. It took little time to get the mesh network running, and the kids immediately started calling “dibs” on when they could have access. Of course the chat application was the first thing they all tried, but they quickly discovered they could share other apps as well. It tickled me, during the sharing sessions, to hear them admonish each other, “Don’t talk! That wrecks it!”

Hallway FunThen the question of range came up, and I gave them permission to go out in pairs and see if the XOs could still “talk” to each other. That was one of the high points for each of the kids who wanted to try it. One pair was joined by the school principal, who wasn’t sure just what they were doing in the commons during class time. The students were amazed that they could go out in the halls and still share a document. They were a little startled when they explored sharing TamTam and had music suddenly flowing from the machines (as was the teacher whose class was momentarily interrupted!).

When my Advanced Tech Apps class arrived, they had to test the range as well, and found that from the snack bar to the library (an impossible distance for our mobile lab laptops) was still an easy range for the mesh network. Their only complaint? “Why didn’t you tell us about the G1G1 thing so we could do it as well??”

They poked, they prodded, they tried to figure out how the mesh was working. When not actually using the XO, they were at their workstations hitting the wiki and googling for all they were worth, trying to find out more. Two-thirds of them were in the land of Discovery Delight; one-third were not impressed because they couldn’t find out if it would play MP3 files.

Sylvia, I think you are spot-on when you say, “Try to remember that you and most likely your child have pre-conceived notions and advantages that you don’t realize. You are like a fish trying to ignore water.” That was certainly what I observed in my classroom.

What about other teachers? Are you getting a chance to see the XOs in a semi-natural environment? I would love to hear what’s going on in your classrooms. I plan on taking my little machines back to the classroom soon and will let you know what happens next.



August 31, 2007

New Year, New Kids

Filed under: ATA,Learning,TappedIn,Tech Apps,TEKS,Web 2.0 — Mrs. B @ 7:20 am

The high point of my teaching day is once again my Advanced Tech Apps class. This year I have only six students, but they are six very unique personalities.

One of the first things I do in this course is hand out a copy of the state TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for Technology Applications, and invite the kids to start thinking of ways they would like to master the skills. I tell them I’m open to new ideas, even radical thoughts, but that I want them to be in charge of what they learn and how they learn it.

This is a novel idea to most students. They’re a bit flummoxed that Teacher isn’t telling them to read these pages in the book, to follow these specific instructions for the rest of class. They’re not quite certain what to do with the freedom and inherent responsibility!

I’m slowly introducing them to the idea that learning continues whether we’re in a class session or not. Google Docs, Wikispaces,, TappedIn … tools I want them to become comfortable with and use for all their learning. Of course, that means they have to create logins and passwords, and we’ve already had a couple of lost passwords. Not to worry, we’ll recreate them and move on.

Responsibility. It is a big part of what I hope they are going to take away from this course. Yes, I want them to become more comfortable with technology, I want them to let tech permeate their educational life just as much as it does their social lives.  Each day I try to reassess my role with them. I am a learner as well, as we move forward in the new school year.

Let the Learning Begin!

May 17, 2007

Leading and Following and Learning

Filed under: Learning,Miguel Guhlin,TappedIn — Mrs. B @ 10:01 pm

I’ve joined the Twitter crew, making feeble tweets but getting excited about what it may mean in relation to the whole Read/Write/Think web. So far I have one “follower” and I’m following two people. Not much of a start, but a start nonetheless.

So many of the educators I follow (read “David Warlick,” “Wes Fryer,” “Will Richardson,” etc.) talk about the Flat World in terms of what it means to the relationships between teachers and learners, and learners and the society they are entering, but what about the effect it might have on leaders and teachers? Are leaders also followers, as well as teachers? Are the three terms interchangeable in Real Life?

Back to the people I am following on Twitter…one I met a year ago through Tapped In, a resource I use daily with my Advanced Tech class. The other just recently joined Tapped In.

Sherry joined Tapped In because of an assignment from one of her professors, and TI Helpdesk volunteer Jeff Cooper connected us, two middle school Tech Literacy teachers. Sherry and I started chatting and soon setup collaboration between our online classrooms, allowing our students to explore the differences between a rural Texas classroom and an urban South Dakota classroom.

Miguel (appears to have) joined Tapped In because of the PBS Capstone program. His experience was very different from Sherry’s:

What struck me was that Tapped In with its maze of rooms was so…clunky. Why not use a virtual space like Moodle, or facilitate conversations with Skype? One of the nice things about Tapped In is that it sends you the transcript of the conversation, edited for length…

As soon as I read that in his blog, I wanted to offer him a tour, give him a chance to get to know Tapped In. But I haven’t. It’s not that I don’t have faith in what Tapped In has to offer (I’ve been a member since 2004). It’s that I feel a bit odd offering to help someone who has led me to so many new ideas!

I find myself wanting to lead a leader, to show him new ideas, new relationships with (seemingly) old tools. And why shouldn’t I? The old roles are changing, and not only in the classroom! If the classroom teacher is moving from “Sage on the Stage” to “Guide on the Side” to “Learning Mentor” to “???,” then it only stands to reason that the roles of the leaders are changing as well. Are we all, leaders, teachers and students, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder?

Why should I be shy about offering suggestions to someone who is a Director? I’m quite comfortable being a fellow learner with my students, and they thoroughly enjoy taking the lead in teaching. I delight in working with other teachers, each of us learning as we explore new ways to reach students.

So what’s the problem? Miguel would be gracious in his response to my offer, I’m certain.

What the heck!

Miguel, I’d like to offer you a guided tour of Tapped In. Come explore with me – we’ll wander the maze of rooms, check the Calendar, maybe even set up an office for you. (You’ll be in good company, Will Richardson and Wes Fryer are members as well!) Let me know when you’ll have an hour free and I’ll be waiting for you in Reception, wearing my Helpdesk cap and ready to lead a Leader.

April 11, 2007

The Crew!

Filed under: Learning,Tapped In,Tarkington,teaching — Mrs. B @ 6:30 pm

The ATA class
These are the kids that make my life interesting every single day of the school year. ATA officially stands for Advanced Technology Applications, an eighth grade elective offered in our middle school. This is only the second year the course has been offered, and it is a whole new world every day!

ATA=Advanced Technology Applications. But what else does ATA stand for? “Attention: Teenagers Abound,” “Active, Talkative Adolescents,” “Always Teaching an Adult” (that would be me), “Aggravation Turned Awry”?

They were a blank canvas when we started in August, and I’ve had so much fun watching them grow and develop. They have moved from being static learners, wanting me to tell them step-by-step what to do, to being the owners of their learning. They decide what they will tackle on any given day, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively. At the beginning of the year, I gave them a copy of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) we were expected to cover during the year. They keep these in folders at their workstations and refer to them from time to time.

I give global projects, intended to cover specific TEKS, and they take the ideas and run with them. We have a composer in class…need some music for your presentation on White Space Usage? JustinV might want some assistance with inserting a link in his web page project and will gladly make a trade with you. Having trouble getting an image to behave? Jess and JustinB are quite adept at using Looking for an original design to use in a project, but your eyes are too tired to look at pixels? Ask our Inkscape pro, Luby. Devin handles most of the scanning of original artwork, while (whether he likes it or not) William can help you tame your tables in HTML. Megan can help you find the timestamps for music you want to edit from your media player, and Kat will help you with overall design. Jonathan can check your HTML for errors and help you figure out why your link isn’t working; Brandon will help you get data entered when your fingers are just too tired to type anymore. James is a whiz at moving files across the network or via thumb drive, and Kait is an expert at looking over your shoulder and helping you troubleshoot just about anything your computer decides to do to you (always at the worst possible time!).

Did I assign these roles? Of course not! Did they come into the class knowing what they were good at? Probably not. Have I listed everything each student excels in? Not by a long shot. “Just in time” teaching, “Just in time” learning – and all provided by the community. I’m a member of the community, suggesting ways things *might* work or helping find possible solutions to a knotty problem, but what you don’t hear in the classroom is a constant chorus of, “Miss?!?! What do I do?” They turn to each other, they go to our online classroom at Tapped In and ask an expert there, they ask me to contact one of the guest speakers we’ve talked with at Tapped In…and once in a while they ask me for help.

Other teachers wander into the classroom and wonder what on earth is going on, I suspect. The kids are all over the place, moving around the room, sometimes all crowded around one computer to see a new project taking shape, sometimes half of them are trying to train MSWord to understand speech so they can dictate. Cheers go up when someone announces success. They share and consult, work as a group and as individuals. Headphones and thumb drives (including mine) are common property for the duration of class. And when there is a cry of anguish as something goes wrong, there is a loud chorus of “Control Z, Control Z — and SAVE it this time!”

Perhaps ATA stands for “Applying Teaching Actively.”

March 31, 2007

Teachers as ARE Learners

Filed under: DSN,Ning,TappedIn,Tarkington,Web 2.0 — Mrs. B @ 6:29 am

I’ll admit it…I’m a teacher. And a learner. I can’t stop myself. Something catches my attention, and I have to explore, investigate, tear it apart. It’s a wonder my parents survived my youth! As an adult, no matter what job I’ve been paid for, I’ve always ended up teaching. And learning. Now, as a middle school Tech teacher, I’m moving to a different level: offering to teach my fellow teachers. Guess what…I’m learning as well.

My current exercise is trying to create a meaningful learning opportunity focused on using the Internet. Does my target audience already use the ‘Net? Certainly, if only for school email and entering grades and attendance. What do I have to offer them? What I see as the incredible universe titled Web 2.0. The problem is this: I’m a geek (freely admitted) and the people I’m writing for probably aren’t comfortable wearing this label.

How do I open the virtual windows without scaring them to death? Some of them probably have My*pace accounts, most of them have never heard of Ning, and a few (who have suffered through other sessions I’ve offered) have accounts. Can you hear the reactions I’m imagining?

Blogs? Something that is blocked from school, and who has time for that anyway. Podcasts? Something that requires an iPod that can’t be afforded on a teacher’s salary. DSN? We’re a rural community that doesn’t have access to high-speed Internet. Wiki? What tha?.

But it’s worth the effort! I want to share all the neat stuff that is out there. I want other people to get excited by David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin, Wes Fryer. I want to meet people at Tapped In who I know in the “meat world.” Why can’t we use the opportunities afforded by Wikispaces to help our students grow and learn while we do the same?

And of course I’m off on a tangent as soon as I start creating the links in this post. Wouldn’t you know it, when I went to Miguel’s blog to pick up the correct URL, his March 20 entry hit me full in the face. Before I could come back here and create the link, I had to go to Randy Rodger’s edublog Teaching Better with Web 2.0 and find this

…a teacher first needs to view their blogging, reading of other blogs, bookmarking, etc. as an essential part of the classroom preparation time. Think of the time already spent gathering materials, perusing teacher’s guides, creating handouts/worksheets, etc. If but a small portion of this time is redirected towards learning/doing something new, a teacher can quickly develop a proficiency level and begin to identify ways to effectively utilize the tools of web 2.o in their instruction. One planning period a week is a great place to start!

Well. Hmm. Okay. Let’s let this entry be the beginning of my journey preparing the new Internet exercise. Fellow learners, start your engines!

March 26, 2007

They’ve Done it Again!

Filed under: ATA,Learning,Tarkington,teaching — Mrs. B @ 6:45 am

My Advanced Tech students never cease to amaze me. In February, Wes Fryer posted an invitation to join him in a Skype conversation on Safe Digital Social Networking (DSN) for a presentation he was doing in St. Louis. Although he posted the invitation at 0:dark o’clock, I happened to catch it in my early morning reading.

When I arrived at school, I caught one of my 8th grade students and asked her to “round up the usual suspects” for a chat about DSN. It was early, and she could only find one other classmate who was awake enough to say, “Yes,” to the invitation. We plunked down my MuVo TX-FM in the middle of the table in the classroom, and with absolutely *no* preparation (did that show, Wes?), I started asking them questions. Their answers, comportment and maturity delighted me!

I contacted the parents of both kids for permission to broadcast the interview, then Skyped Wes and sent him the unedited file just minutes before his presentation began.

My kids were able to use simple tools to speak to educators many states away, and to provide a “young teen” view of how valuable DSN is to them. Isn’t this what teaching and learning are all about? I don’t know how much impact their recording had on the presentation participants, but I do know that those two students walked with their heads a little higher that day…and now I am besieged each morning as I enter the school building with questions about, “Anything cool today, Mrs. B.?”

What a wonderful start to each day!

(You can hear our brief interview here.)

March 10, 2007

Why I love my job…

Filed under: Tarkington,teachers,teaching — Mrs. B @ 6:15 am

Lunch at school

This is one of the things that helps me crawl out of bed each morning and drag myself to school. My district is a special place, full of caring adults and kids who feel comfortable being themselves. When was the last time you saw your superintendent having lunch in the middle school cafeteria? And kids racing to be able to sit at the same table? These are regular kids, not the kind who particularly care what an adult thinks of them (ah, middle school!), but they chose to sit with our super.

We’re a small district, and I think it’s this personal touch that makes us different. We don’t have all the latest and greatest gadgets, but we have people who care about the kids. This philosophy flows from the top and encourages all of us to keep going. And this is not limited to the personality of Mr. K. Every person in Administration cares about each of the teachers, and about the kids.

Right now we are in the usual doldrums, fighting the effects of the last full moon, all the sugar that comes with the Halloween candy, and today will be even more fun – last pep rally of the football season. Sigh. But I’ll go to school, I’ll do my best to remember that my kids are only 12 or 13 years old, and I’ll try to keep a smile on my face. It will be easier because I care about my kids and I’m not alone. I will see other teachers dragging in, taking a deep breath and heading into the halls ready to do the same. We’re in it together. We focus on the kids, not on the test, and we keep going. We play “Follow the Leader” with joy in our hearts because we know it matters. What a huge difference it makes to have everyone on the same page!

Who knows? The super just might show up on campus and have lunch with me! 🙂

September 23, 2006

Stay on the Prairie and Meet the World

Filed under: Learning,TappedIn,teaching — Mrs. B @ 6:27 am

The most incredible things are going on in my classroom, I get to watch the show as my students guide their own learning. Thanks to Tapped In, my students are conversing with a professor in Colorado, helping students in Taiwan learn more about life in the United States, and blossoming in ways I never expected.

Their explorations of the world started in early September, when a Tapped In member in Taiwan asked if she could have her students of English ask my students questions about American culture. Vivian’s high school level students are watching movies to learn more about Western ideas and ways of life. Through the powers of collaboration that Tapped In offers, our classes have been able to ask and answer questions asynchronously, and learning is going on in both directions. (I had to chuckle when one of Vivian’s kids asked, “Do you have any special dishes for New Years?” and one of my students answered, “No, we use the same dishes because we don’t have any other plates to use.”)

The learning moved to a completely different level later in September, as my students started using PowerPoint for an assignment. Another Tapped In member, Dr. Nathan Lowell, had written a post for his graduate level students with the intriguing title Why PowerPoint is Evil. With a title like that, my students were motivated to read the post (made available through our Tapped In classroom) and wanted to discuss the pros and cons of Dr. Lowell’s arguments.

What better than to ask the author himself? Nate graciously agreed to take time out of his busy day at the National Center on Low-Incidence Disabilities University of Northern Colorado, and spend time answering the questions of 15 middle school students.

I was fortunate enough to see and hear my kids asking questions and receiving answers that were incredible. Admittedly, they started off at a low level, asking Nate some farily basic questions, but then the magic started: they started asking their questions outloud, getting feedback from other kids in the room, and then modifying their questions based on the feedback from their classmates. They were growing as learners, right before my eyes!

Did they learn more about PowerPoint? Yes. Did they have a chance to ask an author about his opinions? Yes. Did an adult take time to validate and encourage their growth as learners? You betcha!

I’m still mulling over all that went on during that 50 minute class, and I can hardly wait for the next opportunity for my students to interact with the “real world” as they guide their own learning.

September 1, 2006

Confabulation? Consternation!

Filed under: Learning,teaching — Mrs. B @ 11:24 pm

It doesn’t matter how good my intentions are, I just seem to keep putting off blogging. I have things I want to say, but convince myself that I’ll “do it later, when I’ve got the time to put things together the way I want to.” Bleah!

A friend is teaching a course on distance education and I’ve been following the various blog entries. These are brave students, taking the plunge into areas of learning and areas of the Internet they have never investigated before. This has me thinking…how can I challenge my middle school students to be fascinated with the art of learning?

July 26, 2006

What is Sustainable Learning?

Filed under: teaching — Mrs. B @ 1:39 am

Miguel Guhlin has raised some interesting points in his “Sustainable Learning” entry:

Teachers have so long been pushed down that stepping up and becoming leaders may result in something wonderful–empower children to be leaders–or dictatorship modelled on how they have been treated. I’m sure that could be said better. . .”A teacher’s job is to make him or herself progressively unnecessary.”

Isn’t this the purpose of all teaching, to make oneself unnecessary? I want to gradually become invisible to my students, only in their line of sight when they need something from me, otherwise a part of the furnishings of their classroom–one more tool they have available to them as they move through the work they have selected for themselves.

This is not a novel idea, neither is it an easy concept to manage. For so long I operated as the “sage on the stage” — imitating the teachers I had admired in my own education.

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