It is with enormous pleasure that I will be part of the American School of Bombay’s 2014 Un-Plugged event in Mumbai, India. It is also an even bigger privilege to be working with International educators again. I’ve said many times that if I was in the beginning of my career, this is where I would be, expat’ing in some exotic land, making great friends, teaching great students and growing in educational institutions where innovation is part of the currency of success.
Even though my workshop, on Friday and Saturday, will be about visual literacy, and contemporary literacy will be part of the underlying theme of the day, this workshop will primarily and overwhelmingly be about something that I believe is the
Coolest thing on the Net,
Infographics and Data Visualization
Of course this, and most all of what we do in our classrooms concerns basic literacy, “The skills involved in using one’s information environment to learn what you need to know to do what you need to do.” (my definition)
As a teaser, here are two word clouds. The first is taken from the descriptions of ASB Un-Plugged pre conference and hands-on workshops from 2012. The second comes from the same category of sessions to be held next week in Mumbai.
2012 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop
2014 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop
Of course, this is a small sampling of the themes that are part of the conversations hosted by the American School of Bombay. However I found a couple of things interesting. First of all, might it be that we are finally getting over this whole 21st Century craze. After all, we’re good and there. Also, design seems a little more prominent and create and maker/making have emerged.
I’m so looking forward to next week and counting on the journey being less challenging than last week.
Those who have seen my “Cracking the Code of the ‘Native’ Learning Experience” presentation are familiar with my theory that we have become a more playful society. We spend our cognitive surplus in more interesting ways than ever before. Here is more evidence, a photo taken down Glenwood Avenue, just minutes after Brenda and I had driven through last Wednesday on our way toward a hotel near the Raleigh-Durham Airport. WRAL.com invited people to playfully add to the photo. You can see a slideshow of the photo manipulations here.
This part was not fun. Often, when snow is in the forecast and I’m flying out, I’ll stay in a hotel near RDU the night before so that I’m only a shuttle-ride away the next morning. It had only just started snowing when we left the house for what is usually a fifteen minute drive. Shortly after riding and pushing our sedan up and down Glenwood Avenue and seeing the gridlock that had already formed in the in-bound lanes, we decided that she would not be able to drive back home. So we went straight to the airport, parked the car, and set out looking for taxis, one to take her back to Raleigh and one to take me to my hotel. The hotel shuttle had stopped running, as had the contracted airport Lincoln Town Car taxi service.
Smaller taxi companies had come to the rescue, older green and yellow and electric red cars and minivans, mostly from Japan and driven by young men with exotic accents. Brenda got one of the early ones, headed for North Hills. I got one of the next ones, delivering folks to airport hotels. After two hours of pushing, both ours and many other cars around us, I was in my room, and after another hour, Brenda had been let off at North Hills, from where she walked the remaining mile+ to the house, and lucky to do so.
The next day, I learned that my flight, one of only two leaving RDU that day, had been delayed until 12:00 noon, messing up my connection in Atlanta. Lacking the confidence change my connection on the web (Brenda does that stuff), I called Delta to do the rescheduling for me and I got a new itinerary, keeping the first class seats Brenda had paid extra for out-of-pocket.
I took an early yellow and green cab to the airport, planning to spend the morning in the Delta Sky Club. It hadn’t occurred to me that the lounge might be closed for the snow. No problem though. We had the rest of the airport to relax in.
The plane out of Raleigh, which had been parked there for two days, ended out leaving around 2:00 PM, because they’d waited until nearly noon to start preparing it, as even the engine needed de-icing. Trying to board with a 1st class boarding pass, I was informed that they didn’t have me listed in their manifest, that the Delta agent I’d spoken with on the phone had mistakenly canceled that flight. They gave me the last seat left, 16A, right next to a Duck Dynasty-looking fellow with a sleeveless shirt and tattoo on his shoulder that said M-R-Ducks. The part about the tattoo a bit of an exaggeration, but the rest of this is true.
Of course my delayed delay out of Raleigh caused me to miss my rescheduled flight, but on landing in Atlanta, a very friendly agent told me that I had already been rebooked on a new flight, leaving in an hour and a half. I walked over to the Delta Ski Club there, only to discover that it was more crowded than the concourse. So I spent 45 minutes in the lobby of the club, talking with Brenda on the phone.
The flight on to Louisville was without incident and I was lucky enough to grab a Ford Fusion Titanium to drive over to the hotel. The next day my talks at the Sacred Hearts Campus in Louisville went very well, such a gracious audience, and thankful too. Brenda and I both had been keeping them updated on my adventures of the previous two days.
Flying out of Louisville the next day was only slightly complicated by more snow during the night, the slight delay leaving me only ten minutes to get from gate B24 to gate A20 for my connection in Atlanta. I made it, though I’m sure that at my age and size, running all that distance with luggage was not a pretty site.
The good news is that every once in a while, I will have a trip like that, where everything that can, does go wrong. And then, I’m charmed for the next 24 months or so.
So, may the remainder of my speaking trips be without incident, and leave me with only the best memories of this professional life as a vagabond educator.
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?
I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding. Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.
However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.
If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.
“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.
“I’m fine, I guess” the moody boy replies. Then he adds, “Ms. Crabtree, about the violence in my video…”
The teacher knew that this was coming. There is a hard rule in all presentations, especially images and video, that there be no violence demonstrated.
“You could have stopped the presentation right then, but didn’t,” Alf continued.
“The reason for the policy is to avoid the glorification of violence. You weren’t glorifying violence. You were using it to very effectively make a point. Your examples were not that different from the examples of the lions and the cheetah, which were also violent.”
Alf nodded his understanding and then looked directly at Ms. Crabtree and said, “Thanks!” It was sincere!
Meanwhile, Isaac Johnson’s workday had entered its more intense period as the large media center filled up with students and student teams working on their projects. All of the knowledge gardens were occupied by groups consulting with each other or working individually on specific components of their presentations. Many wore headphones as they consulted with other team members or collaborators via teleconferencing or worked with musical keyboards composing and editing background music or sound effects.
Mr. Johnson noticed Desmone standing by the bookshelf, apparently waiting to talk with him. He commended the students he was sitting with on their work and excused himself, walking over to the waiting teenager.
“I was just curious, Mr. Johnson,” she began as he approached. “How did you know that Alf would be here today?”
The young educator smiled at Desmone. “Do you remember when I checked Alf’s work files?” She nodded. “His last work was done on a computer whose owner was labeled as Sgt. Jonathan Frick. I know Sergeant Frick. He works the night shift for the police department. Evidently, Alf finished up his part of your project from the police station.”
Desmone cocked her head, not understanding.
Mr. Johnson continued, “Do you think Alf would have been working on his project at the police station if he had not fully intended to be in class for the presentation today?”
Desmone smiled. “Oh!” She immediately locked eyes with a friend across the media center, and looked back to the media coordinator. “Thanks, Mr. Johnson!”
“You’re quite welcome!” Mr. Johnson bowed slightly.
Then he stops, and walks back to his seat. The room is silent, even Desmone remains motionless, until she smiles to herself and then turns and smiles at Alf. It was a powerful presentation, and there was also the provocation of Alf’s video clips. There would be much discussion of this presentation from the community, and many opportunities for the team to defend their work.
Later, after lunch, Sally sits in her classroom office reviewing the Reptiles’ presentation. Her classes are over and she has the afternoon to engage in planning and other professional activities including: review of student work, research for her own presentations, meetings with students and teams on their progress, and online meetings with other professionals and collaborators. All class performances are recorded and available through the school’s video archives. She has isolated the Reptiles’ morning presentation into a separate file, which she is now annotating with comments.
Beneath the video is another document displaying the rubric that had been agreed upon by the team. In most objectives, each member of the team received excellent marks. For Alf, the objective that called for compelling communication was an “A” easily. She checked him at “Exceeded Expectations”. It was a striking presentation and the quality of the video editing was exquisite. He had never demonstrated such skill before, and if she did not know that scores meant little to Alf, she might have suspected unethical use of copyrighted information. The presentation would provoke reactions from the community. Sally noticed that the outside comments bin was already filling up. She would spend a sizable part of the afternoon screening them for the students.
After reviewing the evaluations of the rest of the class and assessing the additional materials including student reflections on their project, Ms Crabtree wrote her initial comments for the team’s review and then set to writing her customary letters of thanks to the members. As she finishes her letters, Alf Greeley walks into the room.
“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.
Read the final installment here.
Several Days Earlier:
They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”
“I’m not finished with it yet, Ms. Crabtree,” Samuel immediately replied, somewhat defensively.
The defensive plea was ignored by the veteran middle school teacher. She expected the reaction from the young man who was more comfortable writing computer code than prose. “I wanted to discuss something anyway. It is a good time in your process.”
The youngster resigned himself as Sally reached over and touched her index finger to the print login on the table’s 19” display. Immediately her tablet display was mirrored to the larger device. She pulled up a comments file that had been sent regarding a project from the previous year by another team. Sally continued by complimenting the boy on his thoroughness and the overall organization of the document, specifically pointing out the logical flow. Then she said, “I want you to read these comments from an architect, concerning the introduction of a project last year to design a school campus of the future.”
As Samuel read, Sally followed, reading it again. The architect had first applauded the students on their insights and technical abilities, but then criticized them brutally on the quality of their writing. She (the architect) explained, “Poor written communication conveys a lack of respect for an audience, the product being described, and a lack of respect for the writer himself. Poor communication puts a blemish on the entire message or product that is difficult or impossible to remove again.”
Isaac had walked up and was reading over their shoulders, having planned this meeting with Ms. Crabtree. Isaac said, “Writing text for people to read is a lot like writing computer code. Computer code is text that is written for a computer. You write it to convince the machine to do what you want it to do. If the syntax of the code is wrong, then the computer does not perform as you intended.”
He continued, “You write for people in order to affect them in some way, to inform them about a topic or event, or to cause them to behave in some way. If your syntax is wrong, then you can fail in what you want to accomplish.”
Samuel cocked his head slightly, a personal gesture indicating he was considering what the adults had said. Then he reminded Ms. Crabtree that he had not cleaned up the text, but admitted that he had never thought about grammar in that way. He said that he might get Mr. Johnson or Ms. Shuni to recommend some instructional software to improve his intuitive grammar skills.
Ms. Crabtree is drawn back to the presentation as Alf rises and walks to the front of the room. As he turns to face the audience, he nods to Desmone, who begins the multimedia presentation. Sally could tell from the expression on her face that Desmone is nervous about controlling the presentation since she had not yet seen it.
The story continues here.
Finally the images fade to a map of the world done in negative relief, appearing as it did millions of years ago. A timeline appears to the right of the map beginning at about 200 million years ago. A citation also appears in off-white indicating a Web site that was the source of their data. Immediately, a pointer, starting at the bottom of the timeline, starts to move up slowly. Simultaneously, landmasses begin to move in a motion with which the students are already familiar. Many of them have also used this animation from the Smithsonian Institute’s Web site.
The team is not downgraded for using the familiar animation. However, the class becomes noticeably more interested as splotches begin to fade in and out in specific locations on the map. Numbers are imposed over the splotches as they gradually expand and become more opaque and then shrink to transparency. Soft but intense music plays in the background, credited to a talented student who had attended Bacon school two years earlier, a short citation appearing in the lower corner of the display. Samuel speaks over the animation and music, describing periods in the planet’s relatively recent history of mass extinctions and seemingly spontaneous raises in species diversity.
“Each rise and fall has corresponded with some dramatic change in global conditions: ice ages, planetary collisions, volcanic or seismic calamities…” Samuel speaks on eloquently.
As he continues, Ms. Crabtree is taken back to a conversation she had with the boy during their work on the ecology project. Samuel is thought by many to be a technical genius. He has a genuine gift for understanding and using technology. He also has a flair for using these tools to communicate persuasively. She had convinced Samuel, however, not to handle the programming and data manipulation for this project, that he leave that up to Johann – that Samuel only be allowed to give Johann verbal directions. She had also asked Samuel to do more of the copy and script writing on this project, an activity that she knew would be a challenge for him.
Several Days Earlier:
Sally entered the school media center, a faint electronic click registering her entrance from the chip in her nametag. She stepped aside, so as not to block the doorway, and surveyed the room. The media center has far fewer books than it did when she went to middle school in the middle 1980s. There is a section in one corner that consists of shelves with books of various sizes and colors. They are almost exclusively fiction books that students check out for pleasure and for assignments in their humanities classes. These books remain because it is a deeply held belief that students appreciate the experience of reading a story without the benefit of electronic appliances. Regardless, most reading is done with tablet computers and smaller pocket text and audio readers.
The biggest portion of the room is devoted to work areas that Isaac calls “Knowledge Gardens.” Most of these workspaces consist of a table, with a 19-inch display, attached to a folding cradle that can swivel 360o. The display can be assigned to any tablet in its vicinity when the owner touches the print login pad. Scattered around the table are small, but efficient, keyboards, each of which can also be assigned to any tablet with the touch of its print login pad.
There are also two small stages with 4×8-foot display boards where teams can practice their presentations. She also sees a number of work areas that are much more casual, with homey lamps, bean bag chairs, low sofas, and assorted pillows. The media center is set up for knowledge construction, not just information accessing. Students come here to work, and mostly to work in small groups. It is rarely a quiet place.
Sally found the Reptiles and walked over. All four were together discussing their defense of one of the information resources they are using. She caught Samuel’s eye and asked if he would join her for a minute. She had read through the talented young man’s text document for the project, which was comprehensive and well organized. It appeared, though, that he had paid very little attention to grammar and sentence structure.
They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”
The story continues here.
With the team’s customary “Slither, Slither” chant, the room darkens and the front display board goes black, as Johann manipulates icons on his tablet with a glowing stylus. As the room turns dark, the classroom door opens and closes quietly as Mr. Ball walks in and sits in a seat toward the back of the room. From the center of the room, Desmone speaks, “The Institute of Ecosystem Studies’ definition of ecology is ‘Ecology is the scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.’” White text of the definition gradually brightens into view on the large display with key terms shifting to red. Then the definition gradually fades away into black.
Desmone continues, “There are no guarantees. The world is in flux. Conditions change, and the ecological balance teeters here and there, sponsoring the loss of some species, and the introduction of new ones. Some weaken, and others become stronger…”
While she speaks images of now extinct species surface into view, and then fade again, while in the background and watermarked to about half brightness, two videos impose on each other. One displays a group of cheetahs chasing down a wildebeest that has been taken by surprise. The other shows a pride of lions failing to catch three gazelles that rapidly dart left and right out of reach. Desmone continues to speak describing specific species of both animals and plants that have disappeared or changed dramatically, and the environmental conditions that seem to have caused the change.
To be Continued!
Sally returns to her desk, picks up her tablet and glances at the attendance document that automatically appears, indicating that one of her B2 students is not present, but that he is on the campus. Attendance remains a political necessity, but teachers no longer have to call the roll since the campus proximity system knows the location of all students and faculty on campus by their nametag chips.
A series of checks also appear by the student names on her class roll, indicating that they have submitted their class assignments. Some checks indicate initial submission of the work, others indicate that submitted work has been reviewed by the teacher, reworked by the student, and re-submitted. One student name has no check by it, but one suddenly appears as she is scanning the list. She looks up at the youngster, who blushes and returns his attention to his tablet.
She touches with her finger the Send icon at the corner of her information appliance, and the short message, written earlier in the morning, is sent directly to Mr. Ball’s pocket tablet.
As Sean, the missing student, walks quickly into the room, shaking Ms. Crabtree’s hand distractedly and finds his desk, Sally announces, “As you know, today the Reptiles (“slither, slither” the members murmur at the mention of their team name) will make their presentation. I have to say that I am very excited about this presentation. Johann, Desmone, Alf, and Samuel have all worked very hard on their report, and I think you will learn a great deal from this presentation.”
Ms. Crabtree continues, “But before we get started, I want to mention that you have an assignment posted on your calendars. I want you to read a short story written by a teenager from Croatia. A2 read it yesterday, and we had some very interesting discussions about the story today. Mr. Johnson also contacted the author and she sent a video file, in which she explains why she wrote the story. You are welcome to access A2’s discussion and Nadia Kaufman’s video file from the school’s video archive.”
“Now, without any further adieu, I introduce to you, the Reptiles.”
The story continues here!
At the ring of the bell, Sally rises and walks over to the door, shaking the hand of each student as he or she enters the room. She smiles as she sees Alf walking rapidly down the hall to join the group as it enters her classroom. A tall young man with uncombed curly brown hair, the dark complexion of a boy who spends a lot of time outdoors, and the customary awkwardness of teenagers who are growing too fast, he shakes Ms. Crabtree’s hand, but does not look up at her, moving away and toward his seat in the rear of the room.
As she turns to her classroom, she recalls the morning visit from Mr. Ball, their balding and portly principal.
Earlier in the Morning:
Ms. Crabtree looked up in mock irritation as the 31-year educator spun one of the rolling student desks over to her work area and sat heavily in the seat without consideration of his greater than average size. Sally and Mr. Ball had been friends for all of the eight years that he has been the chief administrator of Bacon, both professionally and personally. Their long friendship and professional relationship did not require niceties. He began with the heart of the problem. “Alf Greeley was taken in by the police last night for vandalism,” he says.
Sally sighed and replied, “It was probably another fight with his mother. He is still hurting so much from their split, and she simply does not know how her reaction is making things worse for her son.”
“All we can do is to try and keep him engaged in his projects and help him in anyway that we can,” Mr. Ball says. “I just thought you should know, so that you can handle things accordingly.”
“His team, the Reptiles, is making their ecology movement presentation today.” Sally finally smiled at her friend and boss. “If you were to casually come in to watch, it would be an encouraging gesture.”
Mr. Ball stood and said, “Send me a message when they are getting started and I’ll do what I can!”
As the principal shoved the abducted seat back in the direction of the other desks, Sally pulled up her e-mail utility, addressed a message to Mr. Ball, and wrote the note, “Reptiles are starting their presentation! -SC-“. She set it for delayed delivery, to be sent directly to his pocket tablet upon her click of a Send icon that suddenly appeared in a corner of her tablet.
The story continues here!keep looking »