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SIMS in the Classroom

SIMS Special NeedsUK Florida educator, Mechelle De Craene, is experimenting with using the SIMS video game, as a method for helping her special needs students learn to express their stories. She says in her blog posting, The Sims 2.0 & Students with Special Needs.

My newest classroom-based pilot research project is coming along well. I am exploring The Sims game with my students with special needs with regard to writing in English class. It’s fun watching as the kids’ virtual stories unfold. Additionally, the kids are producing awesome “Sims Stories” with detailed plots. Oh, the virtual drama middle schoolers can create!

This seems like something to pay attention too.

De Craene, Mechelle. “The Sims 2.0 & Students with Special Needs.” [Weblog Mechelle De Craene :: Weblog] 30 Aug 2006. 31 Aug 2006 <http://elgg.net/mechelledc/weblog/128682.html>.

What about Integrating?

Diane Quirk, of “Technology to Empower Student Learning,” posted a comment on one of my rants about the mantra, “Integrate Technology.” I described how I was much happier with integrating contemporary literacy. But Quirk suggests in her comment that perhaps we should reconsider at integrate as well.

My initial response was that there may be some merit to this, but probably not enough to shake things up any more. However, I continued to think about it, and after reading her subsequent blog posting on the subject, decided that perhaps Diane is right.

Maybe, at least in the long run, we shouldn’t be satisfied with simply integrating the new into the old. Of course with the standards-based movement coupled with accountability, we are forced to hold on to a lot of the old. But for the sake of our conversations, and our efforts to form fertile ground for future reform, we might rethink this. Is it mixing the new with the old that our children need in their education. Or do we need to completely reshape the old so that it more appropriately reflects a rapidly changing world and a dramatically different information environment — changing what and how we teach.
When an english teacher institutes blogging into his classroom to help develop better writing in his students, to what degree is he integrating blogging, and to what degree is he changing what and how he teaches. Is he teaching them to write? or is he now teaching his students to communicate? Is he teaching exclusively by teacher intervention? or is he now teaching them through authentic conversation and authentic assessment? Is this integrating? or is this reshaping?

I guess it’s just semantics. But the fertile ground I talked about above, is the conversations we’re having today.

Image Citation:
Tik, Jan. “Fertile Rock.” Jan Tik’s Photostream. 21 Mar 2005. 31 Aug 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/jantik/7061455/>.

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A New Job…

OK, I’ve been reading through additional comments on my demand that we stop using the “T” word. ..and it occurred to me,

Why don’t we just tell all the teacher to find another job.

Now I do not mean to quit teaching and go take another job. Instead, we ask teachers to go to the want-ads or what ever, and to try to find a job that they would like to do, other than teaching, that they would be qualified for. If they are not qualified for the job, then they should itemize the qualifications they would need, to get the job, and then plan out how they might gain those qualifications — without going back to school.

In other words,

How do we learn to teach ourselves in the new information environment.

Once they figure this out, then they may figure out how to integrate technology into the classroom, by integrating contemporary literacy into the classroom.

Foundations

Some bloggers find it easy to take one aspect of something that another blogger says and then launch into a tirade about it, and even insult the writer or speaker based on that one idea. I can’t do that. However, sometimes someone says something that causes such an itch along my spine, that I just have to backup against a tree and scratch.

The other day, I got back on my soapbox, and railed against our mantra, “Integrate Technology” — preferring instead, to integrate contemporary literacy. Two writers came on with comments agreeing with what I had said, and I agree with both of them wholeheartedly. One, Kelly Dumont, said that information skills seems to be resonating better with teachers than cool technologies. The other, Andrew Pass, came on talking about literacy and the standards, and that if we connect contemporary literacy skills with standards based education, then we will connect with teachers.

I agree with this, wholeheartedly and enthusiastically as well. If we do not teach the standards through contemporary literacies and within the context of today’s information environment, then the standards become merely academic and quite nearly useless, in my opinion.

 43 101265264 685E91C799 MWhat I want to take this opportunity to do is to say that it isn’t the standards that I want to resonate with. Certainly we need standards. Certainly we need basics. But when we go “back to the basics,” aren’t we going backward. If we limit our teaching, our curriculum to the standards, aren’t we just producing standard students, and is that what we really want or need today?

I would be much happier if we called them the “foundations.” Because that’s what they are. If we over emphasize the standards, which I believe we have been over the past few years, and equate education with the standards, then we’re saying that its the entire house. Standards, I believe, are the foundation, upon which we build a house, and the building of that house takes a lifetime.

I applaud Andrew for his focus on the standards, and I plan to continue conversations with him along these lines. However, it isn’t the part of the teacher who teaches to the standards that I want to resonate with, because that educator will continue to teach that there are nine planets, because that’s what the answer will be on the standards test.

I want to resonate with that part of the teacher that teaches that there are eight planets. No! I want to resonate with the part of the teacher who wants to explore with the class why astronomers decided that Pluto should no longer be considered a planet. No! I want to resonate with the part of the teacher who asks the class, “How would you classify a planet?” and then ask the class to describe their classification scheme in their writing and then post it as a comment on the blog of some astronomer.

Am I wrong?

Image Citation:
Experience LA, “The Standard Room Wall Decor.” ExperienceLA’s Photostream. 18 Feb 2006. 30 Aug 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/experiencela/101265264/>.

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Stop Using that Word

Much has been written lately about technology in the classroom — as to whether it is optional or even relevant. This conversation is understandable, given the time of the year. I ask myself two questions in reaction.

  1. Can a teacher be a good teacher without using technology? A resounding “YES!”
  2. Is a teacher who is not using technology doing their job? An emphatic “NO!”

But, of course, it isn’t so simple. “My kids use the pencil sharpener. That’s technology.” It’s why I try not to use that word, and urge others to stop trying to “Integrate technology” It’s too big. It means too many things. It’s why I keep hammer on literacy, that it’s information that has changed (digital, networked, overwhelming, and the more esoteric changes that have come about because of the read/write web).

If we can expand what it means to be literate to reflect the changing information environment, and integrate that, then we might start using technology for what it is, the pencil and paper of our time.

Information Ethics and Parents

A Randolph County, North Carolina teacher commented on one of my recent ethics posts, and brings up an interesting and frustrating aspect of teaching the ethical use of information to our students. The educator writes…

As a middle school technology teacher who teaches ethics my biggest problem is when I tell a child that downloading or copying materials (songs, dvds) is wrong, they say my parents do it and they say it is ok. Although I read them articles where parents are fined, it doesn’t change their minds. What if there are groups in society that don’t acknowledge the validity of your ethics?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure how to respond to this. My initial reaction is that I believe that this will change, just like I believe that parents will become more savvy about their children’s use of computers and networks. However, that won’t happen by itself.

In my opinion, information ethics is not a technology issue. It isn’t even a library/media issue. It’s a literacy issue and should be taught in every grade and subject, by every teacher, every day. It’s basic!

Any comments?

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The Life Long Learning Institution

I received an e-mail early this morning from the librarian at Wellesley College, an independent boy’s school in Wellington, New Zealand. They are planning for a new library, and he was asking for some impressions from a number of educators, with whom I was honored to be included.

Since I am teaching two workshops today for librarians in Loudoun County, Virginia, I thought I would go ahead and write up a quick response and post it here. It’s nothing new, but I think that the nature of blogging allows us to repeat ourselves every time and again.

So here is my response:

One of the ideas that I promote today in my speeches, workshops, and writings, is that, at the same time that we teach our students to be responsible consumers of information, we should also be teaching them to be skilled and responsible producers of information. Look at the concept of the long tail and at the thousands of people who have become authors, musicians and composers, and movie makers, many of whom are drawing incoming by marketing their own information productions through the Internet.

In the information age, information will be the raw material that we work with, as we build unique and valuable information products in order to solve problems and accomplish goals.

Consider also, that today, and increasingly in the future, we live in a time when most of the information that we need to do our jobs is available at a mouse-click, from computers that we carry under our arms and in our pockets. In that kind of world, what place does the traditional library have. Certainly it has a place, but it is not as essential as it once was.

Considering both of these ideas, that children need to learn to be information producers, and that the traditional sense of the library does not fill the need that it once did, think of it (the library) not merely as a place where you go to consume information, but also as a place where you go to produce information. At the same time that students must learn to communicate with words, they must also learn to communicate with images, sound, animation, and video. Classrooms are not a good place to learn and master these skills. Perhaps libraries could be, and in the process reshape themselves into an institution that will be, must be, an essential part of 21st century learning and living — life-long.

Think, “Kinkos for Kids.”

2¢ Worth!

Workshops in Loudoun County and an Invitation

One of the best parts of what I do is getting to attend education conferences all over the country — and occasionally in other countries. It is unfortunate that most teachers do not have the opportunity to attend conferences. However, a handful of school districts solve this problem by organizing their own local conferences, bringing in speakers from outside the district to share new ideas and strategies. Loudoun County, Virginia is one such district who has provided this service for years. I believe that today will be my third Loudoun conference. A clear indication of the quality of this conference is the fact that last year they brought in Ian Jukes as the keynote speaker.

As an experiment, we will be producing our own wiki handouts for these workshops. They can be accessed by clicking the following link:

I want to invite anyone who happens to read my blog this morning, and who would like to include any insights about preparing children for the new information landscape to post there ideas on this wiki. You will be required to set up an account on my wiki site, but that takes only a minute or two. Just click “Create an Account…” in to upper right corner of the page. Then return to the handouts page.

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A Gripe…

I am working on a wiki page that is going to list a variety of New Story starter factoids that teachers and school administrators might use during the opening of schools and school open houses. I’ve drawn the items from a variety of sources, including the very fine “Did You Know” presentation slides that Karl Fisch generously shared with us through his blog.

I ran into a frustrating problem with some of the starters. When I researched the items, trying to find their sources, a number of the statements were posted in weblogs. They were attributed to some pundit or researcher, but there was no citation or direct reference to a primary source. There were also a number of references to conference speakers who had repeated something that some pundit or researcher had said. But again there were no references to primary sources in the resources made available by the speakers.

Now I am by no means consistent with citing the sources of the information that I use in my presentations and on my blog. But I try to be. I think that, at the same time that it is our ethical obligation to assure the reliability of the information that we access, it is equally important that we assure that the information that we share is also reliable. This means citing the sources as appropriately as possible.

It’s actually easy to do, as there are a number of web tools available that will help you generate standard citations. I have run one on Landmarks for Schools for a number of years called The Citation Machine. You simply select the type of citation (MLA or APA), select the type of source (web page, book, etc.) and then fill in the form. The tool then assemble the information you have type into a standard citation, which you can the copy and paste into your blog or your presentation slide.

I have also installed a WordPress extension on my blog that will generate five types of citations for any of the blog entries that might be worthy of citing. I think that it is a simple thing to do, and it is our responsibility to do it.

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Continuing the Conversation on Ethics

Stephen Downes, an information philosopher (my characterization) and blogger, whom I respect greatly, has seen fit to criticize my recent entry, where I featured an Information Code of Ethics for teachers and students. I want to thank this Canadian academic for all of his criticisms and enormous contributions. Questioning blogs and even disagreeing helps to make blogging what it is best at — conversation. So thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about this a little more.

Among his statements, Downes said,

I personally think that a code of ethics is not useful, because if one believes in the ethics, the coded is not needed, and if one doesn’t, the code will not be followed.

On the outset, I agree with this statement. But as my friend, Terry Freedman, says in a comment,

You’re right about the code of ethics (cf Shankara, which I will blog about on http://www.ictineducation.org), but I don’t see how your position actually helps anyone working in schools.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but I think that it is also in the nature of a blog that we can repeat things. Several years ago, during a shuttle ride from an airport to some conference facility, I found myself sitting beside of Donna Miller, a project editor for Linworth Publishing. Out of the conversation that we had, I found myself in a book writing agreement to produce a manuscript about technology in schools.

As I worked on the project, I increasingly came to believe that what I was writing about was not technology, but literacy, the basic skills requires to accomplish goals using information. I was learning, through my research and planning that it was the dramatic changes in the nature of information that is impacting us, more than the dramatic changes in technology. So the project evolved into a literacy book called, “Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.”

It became obvious to me, as the manuscript grew, that the power of information and the enormous personal power that information skills afford their users, demand considerations that were not so important in a published print information environment, and that these ethical considerations were not being taught as part of standard curriculum in most schools.

I began to write a code of ethics, but quickly realized that I’m not smart enough to do what I wanted to do. So I tried to think of a community of people who were already practicing contemporary literacy. It didn’t take long to realize that one professional community is already Exposing Truth, Employing Information, and Expressing Ideas Compellingly — journalists. Their job is not merely to be able to read, but to find appropriate information, decode it, evaluate its value, organize it, process it, and plan for the most effective format that the message should take.

I suspect that most would agree that journalists should follow a code of ethics, and upon investigation, I found that the Society of Professional Journalists had established a Code of Ethics on their web site that followed, amazingly, the structure that I was presenting to general contemporary literacy. After some correspondence, the association’s executive editor gave me permission to adapt their code of ethics for a document that I could make available to schools.

The first three elements are almost identical. I added a forth element to address spamming, malicious hacking, and viruses.

Again, I agree with Downes conclusion that we don’t really need a code of ethics. However, in school, our job is to teach and to help students to learn. And I suspect, as much as I might not like it, that in this time of rapid change, somethings do need to be shown and explicitly taught, as well has helping students to discover.

2¢ Worth!

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
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Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
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Raw Materials for the Mind
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