As you know, I’m in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and today is the first day of their Literacy & Learning conference. They suggested that I come up a day early, as a buffer day, just in case weather was being ornery. Evidently, they had Jason Ohler set up to to keynote a conference her a few months ago, and he got stranded in Toronto.
It’s an excellent thing that I came in a day early. They certainly kept me busy, filling my notebook with lots of blog fodder. It started at breakfast with some DOE folks and then a short meeting at the Nashwaaksis Middle School, where Jeff “The Wiki Man” Whipple gave me a demonstration of BridgIt conferencing software from Smart Technologies. They are doing a lot of collaborative projects here with classes in New Orleans, Malaysia, and Serbia, to mention only a few. I saw a more local example after our meeting, as a grade eight class was delivering reports to a class in a rural part of the province. They were using a mobile PolyCom setup to facilitate the audio and video, and Bridgit to share pages. Interestingly, they used Wikispaces for the presentation and the multimedia, including links to video and spread sheet files.
A high point of the day was getting to meet Gary Gallant, who, several years ago, traveled to Antarctica, and worked with scientists there, transmitting his experience over the Internet to thousands of students here in New Brunswick and around the world.
In reflection, what I didn’t see in the teleconferencing activity yesterday, nor in the poster presentations yesterday at the conference, and what was most certainly an integral part of what these children experienced, was the literacy. ..and I’m not talking about just the reading and writing, but what strategies they used to find the information they were using? On what criteria did they decide what texts and what images they were going to use, and the texts and images they didn’t use? What did they do with the data that they collected to draw their conclusions? What I was seeing are VERY impressive uses of technology. But I think that an explicit part of these demonstrations should be the information skills that learners and teachers have practiced to get to these amazing projects. Of course, I saw it. I could see what it took to get to this fabulous work. But if a legislator or city alderman is watching, the skills should be an explicit part of the demonstration.
I did get to see kids practicing these skills in Chad Ball’s class, where he is teaching civics in a different way. Rather than teaching the concepts and vocabularies, Chad simply posted the information on the class wiki, pointed his students to it and then assigned them to work in teams and invent their own political party. They were required to have a platform, to write speeches, have a mascot and logo, and to present their party to the class, and to utilize all of the vocabulary words and political concepts in the process.
Chad told us that he had just decided to suggest that they take the project further this year, and had posted this suggestion on the class wiki. The students complained at first, but by the time Jeff and I got to the class, a half hour later, there were already 102 comments on that wiki page, from the students, mostly talking about ways that they might extend the project. A very flat classroom!
I was fascinated that several of the students created a party web site, using Piczo, which is a social networking site that seems to be favored by youngsters in Canada. What’s interesting is that the site is blocked by the school district. How do those kids do that?
I’m going to close here by mentioning that the technology mentors are doing something that I haven’t seen before for professional development. They come into a school with three substitute teachers (they call them supply teachers). They go to the classrooms of teachers who have expressed an interest in learning some specific technology skill or piece of software. They drop off the substitute and then take the teacher(s) to the PD lab for an hour or so of training. What strikes me about this procedure is not just that it is incredibly efficient, but it also sends the message that professional development is part of the job. It isn’t something that happens after work, on weekends, and during the summer. But it is important enough that it is part of your work day.
My work day continues today with a breakfast meeting, another keynote (flat world and flat classroom stuff), and then three breakout sessions. I’m already tired!